Community leaders scrutinize police presence at OPRF

Oak Park trustees, D200 board members express concerns about Resource Officer program

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The village of Oak Park and the District 200 school board have delayed extending an intergovernmental agreement that allows for a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Oak Park and River Forest High School. 

The delay comes amid concerns among some students, community members, village officials and D200 officials about the presence of armed police officers at OPRF. 

Those concerns came to a head last month, when a group of at least 30 students converged at Oak Park Village Hall on Feb. 26 and made a series of demands, among them was that the village put a stop to the SRO program. 

Antoine Ford, the OPRF student-activist who helped organize the demonstration (the students had walked out of the high school earlier that day before marching to village hall), said that he and many of his peers "feel intimidated and criminalized" by the police presence.

The SRO program at OPRF has been in place since 1999, when the infamous mass shooting happened at a Columbine High School in Colorado. Since then local police departments across the country have deployed sworn police to double as resource officers inside schools in an effort to prevent future attacks and to keep students safe.

But critics of the program say that it's been a double-edged sword. During an Oak Park village board meeting on Feb. 18, residents and some trustees expressed a range of concerns about the SRO program.

"I don't believe that having armed police in our schools is a productive or even practical method for learning respect for the police," said Oak Park activist Cate Readling. 

Shobha Mahadev, a clinical associate professor at Northwestern University's law school, said that she was deeply troubled by the presence of resource officers in schools. 

"National think tanks and well-regarded organizations that study this issue, such as the Justice Policy Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Dignity in Schools Campaign agree that the presence of police or school officers is concerning from a safety perspective and with respect to the school-to-prison pipeline, which funnels our young people from school to the criminal justice system." 

During board discussion about the resource officer program, Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla said she found some of the language in the agreement "deeply problematic." 

For instance, one section of the agreement states that the resource officer "in cooperation with School District administration, will make a reasonable effort to contact the student's parent or guardian before any interview or interrogation." 

Walker-Peddakotla said the agreement does not explicitly state that a parent or guardian, or legal representative, must be present when the interview happens. 

Other board members said the resource officer program should strike a balance between safety and respect for students. 

Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds said during the meeting that having resource officers in the schools is an industry best practice. He said studies show that the presence of the officers in schools significantly reduces the response time to emergencies like school shootings. 

"I think there is a lot of value in having a school resource officer present," the chief said. 

"I think it's important to have a police presence," said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. "We don't want to end up in a situation where we wish we did something to protect a kid from not being safe." 

Abu-Taleb said he was in favor of D200 officials modifying the agreement, instead of getting rid of the program altogether. 

Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park's village manager, said village administrators already made some changes throughout the document, such as removing overly deferential language about respect for law enforcement that does not reflect the current national focus on community policing, which emphasizes mutual respect and trust between community members and the police. 

"That's old language and it's not proper," Pavlicek said, adding that there's more work to do on improving the agreement. 

The D200 school board also held a meeting on Feb. 18, where its members discussed the agreement, which doesn't expire until next year. District administrators said it was appropriate to delay extending the agreement until making changes in the document that would ensure that the resource officer assigned to OPRF is appropriately trained in restorative justice practices. 

"If we're moving towards a school community and culture of warmth and restorative practices, what does the SRO presence mean in our building?" D200 board President Jackie Moore said at the school board meeting. 

The existing agreement calls for the district to pay $155,153 to the village in compensation for the police department providing a School Resource Officer at OPRF. The final changes to the agreement are ultimately up to the school board, village officials said. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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Reader Comments

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Kevin Peppard  

Posted: March 5th, 2020 6:23 PM

Michael O'Malley: The French Revolution changed the number of days in the week. People objected because there was only one day in ten they got off. The renamed the months.They invented the Day of the Supreme Being. The statue burnt down during the celebration. It was in the month of Thermidor (The Hot Time", formerly known as August) that the common people rebelled with the counter-revolution. Robespierre and his ilk met their maker at the guillotine. Are people here also getting fed up with being lab rats in the Social Justice Warrior's experimentation with the remaking of society? Edmund Burke contrasted the differences between the French and American Revolutions. One was synthetic, manmade. The other was organic, and the product of evolution and hard earned rights. Read his "Reflections upon the Revolution in France."

Jasper Long from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2020 9:16 AM

Agree with Chris and Jim. Also not against SROs at the school. With a sister who graduated from OPRF last year, I was privy to certain situations that tend to fly under the radar of the adults. These kids need SROs there.

Wes Gathings  

Posted: March 5th, 2020 4:21 AM

This is really cute. Before these children were born, before Columbine, and before these "well-regarded organizations" chimed in I had daily police presence and a police office in my high school. It was off duty officers, working security, that students went to with information about a gang conflict that was planned for after school. Several armed people waited in cars outside the school for dismissal. We didn't have a problem or feel intimidated by police at my school...at least those of that were unarmed and not in gangs. By the way let me throw in I'm a black male from the southside from a majority black high school before I'm told how privileged I am and that police treated me differently. We are raising a generation of children that complain about everything and expect the world to revolve around their limited and underdeveloped perspectives. Are their points of view significant? Yes. Are they children that still have not completed their formative years? Yes. Cops had better be in a public school my kids are in. If the SROs are bad petition to get them replaced.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 10:26 PM

What Michael and Tom said.

Michael O'Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 8:40 PM

Mr. Johnson, I can understand Mr. Polido's frustration when the WJ holds up a teenager as a student activist without acknowledging that he is a teenager. Or without mentioning that teenager's inane protests in honor of a child who was killed 1000 miles away by a likely psychopath in Florida - trying to draw some parallels with "oppression" in Oak Park. I am also frustrated with the steady chorus by the "woke" about the brutality this village inflicts on minorities. Show us! Telling is nothing without the show. We have scolds who tell us that the village is still living in the Jim Crow era. Show us. Many of us are adults. We may actually be able to help. There is another piece in this week's WJ about a revolving door for principals at Lincoln. Nothing is really laid out for the readers, but it is strongly intimated that race is the issue. Maybe someone can show us. Until then it all sounds a little nutty.

Tom MacMillan from OAK PARK  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 8:37 PM

The officer was put on the school campus to protect the students and school. The program has been 100% successful. A tiny handful of students, coached by a tiny handful of adult activists -- have to be balanced against tens of thousands of citizens in town who want this program to continue. The anarchist crowd in town wants to eliminate all police, to that the only answer is NO.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 3:41 PM

I might have this wrong. I knew of off duty OPPD police officers being used as security for Oak Park teams and fans while Oak Park teams travel to a different venue. Like wise, I knew of visiting teams bring their security teams to Oak Park when they visit. Will the High School administration forbid the opposing teams security personnel from being on the Oak Park campus. To the best of my knowledge, this was an IHSA mandate Maybe it has changed. No security, no game maybe.

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 1:10 PM

I agree, no need to name call. I also disagree that ShaRhonda is a strong advocate in our OP community - meanwhile Antoine's view is very important (he is living with it day in and day out), I'd think setting up an interview to fully understand from his perspective and that of other student leaders at OPRF would be AMAZING. That being said, if I were to read an unbiased (well written article) that takes the perspective of all "community leaders," I think that would be far more telling and representative of the situation. I'm not sure I agree with having police in the school. My HS didn't have them but WOW did my middle school need them. The amount of violence and threats of death or extreme violence were insane. I think if someone wrote this article without bias and included multiple perspectives without leading the reader down a certain path... it'd be far better. But, here I am reading this website... again.

Nick Polido  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 12:56 PM

Oops, I forgot to mention Anthony Clark

Jim Schwartz  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 12:06 PM

Nick -- I'm wondering why you feel the need to comment on this post in such an insulting way. You imply that student activist Antoine Ford is not a community leader. Who gets to decide who is a leader in the community? He led a community protest involving dozens of his peers -- that's more than a lot of adults have done to lead their community. And why the need to invoke ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson's name or call her a "nut"? She was not even mentioned in this article. But nevertheless, she is a strong advocate for justice in this community, and you respond with name-calling. I don't see why that is necessary.

Nick Polido  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 10:44 AM

Community leaders?? Really....Antoine Ford? Shobha Mahadev,"presence of police or school officers is concerning from a safety perspective and with respect to the school-to-prison pipeline, which funnels our young people from school to the criminal justice system." Walker-Peddakotla who believes our police force is oppressive. The only nut your missing in this article is ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson!

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: March 4th, 2020 3:35 AM

Perhaps the Journal can do a piece spotlighting the many good things SROs have done while serving at OPRF. Including the female cop who worked closely with at-risk girls to discuss their problems and concerns. It paid dividends, as I recall. I hear what some kids would like. Now let's see what responsible and thoughtful adults decide to do. The WJ could help with that discussion.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 3rd, 2020 8:54 PM

Get the police officer out of the school now. The students do not want the officer at the school. The administrators do not want the officer at the school. Whatever happens will be on the heads and conscience of the students and administrators. Do not go any place that does not want you there.Get out now because the police officer is not wanted at the school. You could argue that the police officer is in danger just by working at the school. Who will come to the aid of the police officer. Get out now and let fate finds fates direction.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: March 3rd, 2020 8:09 PM

Someone needs to get a math teacher involved stat. The protest was 30 kids. That's not even 1% of the total student body. I can get 30 students to be against almost anything! That being said I agree some of the language should be revised. That's fair but don't get rid of the officer there. Does nobody read the news and see all the shootings at school? If they take the officer out and anything happens welcome to a massive lawsuit. Amend the wording and leave the officer and call it done.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: March 3rd, 2020 6:22 PM

Police Officers have been in the High School before the current students were even born. To remove a Police Officer is dividing students based on some one or a group saying they feel intimidated or think this is the pipeline to prison. That is absolute nonsense. There are students who may even pursue a career in Law Enforcement which are benefiting from interactions with a Police Officer. This would be a mistake not to have a Police Officer in the school to continue building partnerships with students, and recognizing potential problems with students. I do not understand this quote, ""If we're moving towards a school community and culture of warmth and restorative practices, what does the SRO presence mean in our building?" D200 board President Jackie Moore said at the school board meeting." Jackie Moore, maybe if you would have talked with a State Investigator on the scene at Columbine you would not have to consider the importance. This was initiated because of the Columbine tragedy that may have been prevented if a Police Officer was already in the school knowing students and recognizing certain behaviors in students. Oak Park has an excellent Police Chief with Federal training and if he thinks the program should continue then I would not be relying on some teacher or on a student who was raised most likely in a school that already had a Police Officer in it

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