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Current events fuel need for U-46 review of SROs


By Seth Hancock
  Engaging in much ado, the Board of Education in School District U-46 discussed School Resource Officers (SRO) at its meeting on Monday, Aug. 3 which was held electronically due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
  The discussion was requested by the board, not because of any allegations of concerns from district SROs but rather because of national news regarding police which was spurred on by an incident in Minneapolis.
  “My concern is that to make sure that we assure the parents and the students in lieu of everything that has been going on in the media lately and the mindset that to some students, especially some communities of the black and brown communities, that the policemen are not their friend,” said board member Eva Porter.
  Porter asked about training and “how do we break down that systemic barrier to dispel that they’re being treated fairly?”
  Ana Lalley, Elgin’s chief of police, said “everyone has a bias” and Elgin’s officers, including SROs, are trained on how to “manage those biases.” She said they have emotional intelligence and “implicit bias” training.  
  Porter asked if it addresses the “situation that we find ourselves in right now in light of new findings” which Lalley said there’s continual training including around issues of race and bias. She later said last year the department was trained on issues related to autism, hearing-impaired and LGBTQ issues.
  Regarding special needs students, board member Kate Thommes asked: “How is a police officer better qualified to deescalate a mental health crisis than a licensed clinical social worker or our school psychologist or a school nurse?”
  Superintendent Tony Sanders said the district is continuing to add such employees, this despite the continued enrollment declines.
  “We recognize the need for social workers and counselors as well,” Sanders said. “This is not to say that we’re minimizing the impact that social workers and counselors have on a child’s life.”
  “I believe that our SROs, I know that our SROs have an awareness and know those students” and know where the special education classrooms are said John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture.
  Thommes said “not every student who has autism” is in special education classrooms and “it’s not enough to know that they exist…. We need to really focus on that training.”
  Board member Veronica Noland asked about the consistency between police departments in U-46 regarding issues like training and body cameras.
  Courtney Stoeber, SRO at Streamwood’s Tefft Middle School, said her department has annual training as does Bartlett’s said Rich Bosh, SRO at Bartlett High School. Bosh noted that SROs across the district have monthly meetings with Heiderscheidt and there is consistency.
  Board member Donna Smith said she was “so proud” of the district and they’re “doing a great job” as the district reported large drops in the number of arrests.
  U-46’s data showed a drop in arrests from 343 in 2013-2014 to 29 in 2018-2019, however that drop is as a result of efforts by the district to implement “restorative practices” in discipline. No evidence was provided showing that schools are safer or there is less violence.
  Board member John Devereux asked about what student activities must be reported to the police and Heiderscheidt said weapons and drug offenses are among those activities and “not necessarily do we request (SROs) to act upon it nor can we be a complainant on that.”
  Devereux suggested there be a survey or discussions held to receive student perspectives.
  Olivia Howell, the student advisor to the board, said it was “intimidating” to have SROs in full police uniform. She said at her school, South Elgin High School, its SRO was injured breaking up a fight and “we’ve had a couple I believe.”
  Heiderscheidt said he was not sure if every student arrest was made by an SRO when questioned by board member Melissa Owens, and he said there are no state or federal grants to fund SROs.
  Owens said she wanted a “holistic approach” in contract language and was concerned that it says SROs “enforce all laws and municipal ordinances.” SROs, however, do not enforce the Student Code of Conduct.
  Heiderscheidt said “many things” in the code of conduct are illegal activities like fighting and weapons. He said incidents are now investigated by the school administration which then reports it to the SROs.
  Owens responded “the first word is ‘enforce’ and that concerns me” and said it’s “saying that we view SROs having a certain job.” She said Denver’s school district’s contract states SROs “differentiate between disciplinary issues and crime problems and respond appropriately.”

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