Plan to end mandated hiring of police as school security guards awaits Chicago school district's approval, union says

CHICAGO — As Chicago Public Schools plans to sunset its School Resource Officer program by the start of the 2024-25 school year, the district’s prior commitment to minimize the larger presence of police in schools serving as security guards remains up in the air.

Service Employees International Union Local 73, the union representing CPS support personnel, has offered to waive a contract stipulation that currently requires CPS to hire police in part-time security roles, union spokesperson Eric Bailey told the Tribune.

In December, SEIU sent CPS a proposed Memorandum of Understanding that would immediately allow the district to hire civilians in part-time security roles, and the union has been awaiting a response since, Bailey said.

CPS confirmed it received the memorandum and a spokesperson said the district is assessing the financial terms it contains. According to Bailey, the proposal doesn’t alter the current wage rate, but simply eliminates a requirement in place since at least 2018 that part-time security candidates “must have the legal authority to effectuate an arrest.”

The district’s overarching five-year contract with SEIU, which also represents CPS crossing guards, special education classroom assistants, bus aides and parent workers, expired in June.

At that time, CPS said it employs 62 part-time security officers and maintains a substitute pool of vetted and trained part-time security officers assigned to support schools as needed. Public records show a cumulative 120 part-time security officers were assigned 59 separate CPS departments, primarily schools, as of June — when current Board of Education Vice-President Elizabeth Todd-Breland asked CPS Security Chief Jadine Chou about off-duty police in security guard roles.

Although all full-time security officers are civilians, “part-time security officers are sworn CPD officers as it stands,” Chou said at the Board’s June meeting, adding that the district was “working very closely” with SEIU to remove the mandate to hire only police in those roles.

“My guess is by the time we enter back into fall, that eligibility requirement will be removed … that’s something that’s happening very quickly,” she said.

As of Monday, being an “active, sworn Chicago Police Officer” remained a requirement of a job listing for a “part-time security officer (off-duty police)” that’s been posted on CPS’ website since January 2023. The position is described as “the first line of defense to defuse and de-escalate student misconduct and/or serious incidents.”

While the district and SEIU continue to negotiate a renewal, terms of the current contract remain in place amid a 38% vacancy rate with 55 unfilled part-time security positions, according to Bailey, the union rep. Both he and CPS said that if approved, the memorandum would allow the sworn officer requirement to be removed before a larger contract renewal is finalized.

“SEIU Local 73 is committed to having security officers who are focused on providing care and safety for students,” Bailey said. “The union is prepared to waive all sworn officer requirements in terms of job description as well as the requirement to be able to effectuate arrests,” Bailey said. “By lifting this requirement, we believe CPS will be better able to fill part-time security roles and improve safety in our schools.”

Recent years have seen a spate of lawsuits involving the use of force by cops working as CPS security guards. Meanwhile, a district agreement allowing CPD officers, known as School Resource Officers or SROs, to patrol and conduct investigations at assigned high schools has long been under scrutiny.

Following racial justice protests prompted by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020, groups of CPS students demanded the district nullify its then-$33 million SRO contract with the police department. CPS instead reduced the contract by half and granted Local School Councils the ability to vote to keep or remove resource officers during former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration.

Data on school-based arrests released by the district in 2020 showed the overwhelming majority — 73% — involved Black students, who accounted for only 36% of students.

The number of SROs has dwindled to 57 this school year, down from 176 in 2019. Schools with LSCs that opted to remove SROs have received trade-in funds to support alternative strategies, such as hiring social work and restorative justice coordinators as well as security guards.

Working with the Board of Education, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office and CPD, CPS said it will sunset the SRO program altogether by the start of the 2024-25 school year and provide trade-in funds to the remaining 39 participating schools. Each police district will retain a school sergeant in an ongoing partnership with CPS, and schools will continue to employ school security officers, crossing guards and Safe Passage workers, according to CPS.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ Tuesday, Johnson said he has no qualms with ending the SRO program. But as for SEIU’s proposal to allow civilians in part-time security roles, a spokesperson for Johnson said the mayor’s office does not comment on contract negotiations.

“Mayor Johnson believes that all students deserve to feel safe and secure in their school communities,” a Johnson spokesperson said.

A resolution including guidelines for CPS to revise its Whole School Safety policy is expected to be introduced at the Board of Education meeting Feb. 14, with CPS then engaging community members in creating a new policy to be voted on in late spring, the district said.