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U-46 discusses changes to SRO agreement

By Seth Hancock
  The District U-46 Board of Education  will be voting to renew contracts with its School Resource Officers (SRO) and changes in the language of the contracts raised some questions when they were presented at the board meeting on Monday, Nov. 2.
  John Heiderscheidt, director of School Safety and Culture, said there is an SRO at each of the district’s middle and high schools, 14 total. Seven come from the Elgin Police Department, three from Streamwood and two each from Bartlett and South Elgin.
  The total cost increase, including overtime/event security budget, is $27,516 from $936,213 to $963,729 for a 2.9 percent increase. Heiderscheidt said the district shares the cost with the police departments at a 60-40 split, U-46 paying 60 percent.
  “The school district suggested contract language changes… to bring our school resource officer contracts in line with our strategic plan,” Heiderscheidt said.
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders asked Heiderscheidt to elaborate on how the SROs are meeting the social and emotional needs of students.
  Heiderscheidt, a former officer in Buffalo Grove, said juvenile officers are “specially trained in restorative practices” and generally try to seek alternative ways when possible to deal with criminal acts committed by students rather than putting them into the legal system. He noted things such as peer jury and the 3rd Millennium Program which is for youths involved in drug and alcohol abuse as well as theft.
  Reading from a statement made by Jeffrey Swoboda, Elgin’s police chief, Heiderscheidt said SROs promote “safer homes, safer neighborhoods and safer communities” and “they are deeply rooted with caring.” He added SROs sometimes teach the Constitution to classes.
  Board member Jeanette Ward said she liked the explanation given by Heiderscheidt but questioned a change in language in Section 3 which deals with the purpose of the SROs. The language changed from creating an “environment on campuses that is conducive to learning and child development” to “nurturing school learning environment that is flexible in meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of each student.”
  Ward said it is “not the duty of a police officer to deal with the social and emotional needs of kids.”
  “What you described sounds great, and I bet you were doing that before the (language) was changed,” Ward said.
  Ward added: “When I read that, I thought that can go in a lot of different directions. So what you’ve described is just police officers behaving like good and decent human beings. Now weren’t they doing that before this” change in language?
  Heiderscheidt said the reason for the change was to ask the police departments if they agree with the direction U-46 is going, and seeking “safer learning environments isn’t just about patrolling the hallways and putting a security team in the hallways of our middle and high schools. It’s really about working with kids, developing relationships and preventing as much as we can possibly prevent.”
  Board member Traci Ellis raised a concern with language in Section 4.2 dealing with duties and responsibilities. The language, which was not a change, asks the SROs to not only enforce laws and ordinances but also “applicable District policies.”
  Ellis said that language concerned her in the past, and “I still have some amount of concern about the use of police officers for enforcing district policies.” She noted a recent video that went viral from a South Carolina school where a school cop is seen throwing a student to the ground in her desk. That officer’s defense is that the student was resisting commands, but the initial contact was due to the student not obeying a school policy, not for any criminal activity.
  “I just want to make sure we are keeping school discipline within the hands of teachers, staff, administrators and not expecting police officers to handle our school discipline,” Ellis said.
  Heiderscheidt said the intent of that is “not about discipline” and that he meets monthly with the SROs and the school deans to discuss when it’s appropriate for them to step in and act. He added the district is in compliance with Department of Educations’ Office for Civil Rights, and every interaction is entered into the system.
  Board member Phil Costello said: “I understand your concern, but I do think you do need a presence there just to make sure that things don’t escalate beyond what we would hate to see happen.”
  Board member Sue Kerr asked about the addition of a section requiring a monthly crime report as she questioned if that was done before. Heiderscheidt said it was a clarification of the need for it because ‘it wasn’t happening in some instances.”
  Ward asked about SROs teaching students about the Constitution and in what context is that done, and Heiderscheidt said when he was an SRO at a different district he would discuss searches and seizures and about the rights of citizens when they are arrested.
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, asked about changes in the school’s discipline policy and if the SROs are informed when changes occur, and Heiderscheidt said they are “directly in the loop.”



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