VALLAS FOR ALL CHICAGO
KEEPING STUDENTS SAFE 24/7
The Chicago Tribune’s stories on the widespread abuse of Chicago Public Schools is tragic and deeply disturbing. It reflects a failure of leadership at CPS, which has witnessed a revolving door of leadership changes and scandal under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This is a prime example of Emanuel’s reactive and micromanaging style missing the forest for the trees and producing a culture in which there has been a complete lack of accountability.
During my tenure in the schools we placed a premium on protecting our students. We established a 24/7 rapid response system to identify and immediately address situations where children were at risk, whether in school or outside, whether involving a school district employee or someone from the community or even a family member. If there was an allegation of inappropriate behavior involving employees, they were removed from settings where they might be in contact with students, a full investigation was conducted, and the Department of Children and Family Services was notified.
CPS needs a public safety transformation. A School Patrol Division needs to be established with specially trained officers. We need to leverage current technology and social media channels to provide confidential abuse reporting. We need active and aggressive crisis intervention that harnesses the assets of other state and local organizations.
I have laid out my Schools Safety Plan on www.vallasforallchicago.com. We can and will make our school children safer than ever before.
SCHOOL SAFETY ACTION PLAN
School safety is based on key principals of prevention and rapid response to problems. Key concepts of this system include:
I. A specially trained CPD School Police Officer in each school.
- These officers will be part of a restored School Police Patrol (SPP) under their own separate CPD Commander. These officers will be continuously trained in how to work and communicate with young people, de-escalation techniques, proportional response and restorative justice. They will be a reliable, on-site presence who will provide a needed measure of assurance and immediacy-before, during, and after any problem. Each officer should become a daily touchstone of strength, compassion, and reliance for every member of the school community, a mentoring presence that both encourages and inspires young people. Such an officer will also be the source of intelligence gathering and communication. The SPP would also have the capacity to conduct investigations in coordination with CPD and other law enforcement agencies as well as child welfare agencies and organizations including DCFS.
II. Public safety infrastructure, equipment and training.
- This means doors that can be locked, safe space identified and secured, working security cameras that are constantly monitored. It means continuous training in shooter responses, shelter-in-place, building evacuations. It also means training in the process of responding quickly and appropriately to any threat to student safety 24/7, whether inside or outside schools. This includes incidents of sexual harassment and abuse involving CPS employees, other students or adults in the community.
III. Intelligence gathering, analysis, response and proactive intervention.
- There is current technology that can support virtual school digital social/safety net. Not merely an alert system, this technology can provide the highest level of campus-wide analytics and restorative practice. Significantly, it includes student-centric elements to engage all students through the kind of social media interactions they most favor. It is a medium by which students can take responsibility to help create the kind of safe school they deserve. The application of technology can assist in the prevention of and be addressing problems once they occur.
Key elements of this program would include:
Institutionalized Rapid Response/ Crisis Intervention
CPS should have Crisis Intervention Teams that have the capacity to intervene 24/7 in response to any situation. Those teams would coordinate with the School Police Command and other state and local social service organizations like DCFS to ensure coordinated responses.
- Utilizing a hotline and a structured social media platform, resources would be in place for anonymous 24/7 reporting that manages, categorizes and disseminates analyzed information for appropriate action.
CPS School Police Patrol Investigations
- The CPS School Police Patrol would investigate serious cases in which children are put in harm’s way or have been abused. This is currently the responsibility of the Law Department which creates inherent conflict of interest and accountability issues.
Crisis Intervention Services
- Restoration of the Office of Crisis Intervention to coordinate the delivery of needed and appropriate crisis intervention services to in-need children and their families when necessary. This would include the restoration of the Crisis Intervention Fund to secure flexible funding for special emergencies.
Institutional Contact with Relevant Government Partners
- In addition to a more integrated presence of CPD at all schools, strict reporting requirements would be in place for proper and immediate referrals to the Inspector General, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Adherence to these requirements would be a key part of every employee evaluation.
Social Media School Safety Platforms
- Many technology-based solutions are available, especially for using smartphones to report and resolve problems.
- Digital apps can be used to allow school communities to create customized private, confidential social networks focusing on student safety and wellness and which can crowd-source at-risk-behavior issues. (See/hear something, send something.)
- Technology can be designed, to address a variety of At-Risk-Behaviors (e.g., bullying or cyberbullying, sexual harassment and abuse, drug use and opioid addiction). Once a problem/concern is submitted, the technology provides administrative tools to streamline the recording, tracking and resolution of student issues. Systems can be used to suggest specifically appropriate help services and restorative resources to meet student social and emotional needs.
With the right strategies–CPD professionals in sufficient numbers on site and trained in dealing with school-age students, and the right technological tools–we can transform our public safety program across the entire district to make our schools safer than ever before.
Safety: The Cost of Additional Officers.
Transitioning non CPD security positions to CPD positions will reduce the costs of the additional Police Officers initially by a half and long term by one-third.
The additional officers will be available for deployment in the respective Police District where the school resides to monitor parks, recreational events, public places were young people are likely to gather when school is out. This will help reduce overtime costs.
Student Health and Safety: The Vallas Record
My entire career as a school CEO and Superintendent has always included an intense focus on improving health and welfare of students, and included:
– Healthy Kids Healthy Minds Program designed to ensure that all children have adequate health care;
– Free eyeglasses program that provided tens of thousands of children with glasses annually;
– School nutrition program which provided three meals a day;
– Children’s First Fund that provided financial support to CPS families in crisis (paying for over 125 funerals);
Public safety for student, faculty and staff has not been an exception as we took continual steps to improve school safety. The following highlights my CPS Public Safety efforts.
- Expanded CPD presence in the schools particularly with off-duty CPD Officers.
- Consolidated single School Police Command.
- Provided 24/7 incident reporting and crisis intervention.
- Created an Alternative School Network to re-enroll students who had dropped, been expelled or released from correctional facilities.
- Established and expanded the School a Patrol to over 6,000 members
- Establish the “Wand” program to provide all schools with handheld wand detectors to allow schools to occasionally and randomly check students and adults in all schools.
- Established 24/7 student emergency “Hot Line” and set up “Student Support Centers” staffed by trained young adults and overseen by veteran counselors in the majority of high schools.
- Expanded school safety drills to includes School Shelter in Place and Active Shooter Training.
- Behavioral RTI to identify students with behavioral problems and provide the most appropriate responses.
- Creation of the Children’s First Fund that raised funds to provide financial support to families whose children had been the victims of violence.