The Chicago Tribune recently released stories that detail the widespread abuse of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), abuse that is tragic and deeply disturbing. These abuses reflect a failure of leadership at CPS, an organization that witnesses a revolving door of leadership changes and scandal under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. These cases represent prime examples of Emanuel’s reactive style of micromanagement that misses the forest for the trees. His lack of leadership produces a culture that completely lacks accountability.
As CEO of Chicago Public 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. These included cases of risk existing in the schools or outside the schools and cases involving individuals such as school district employees, community members, or even family members. If there was an allegation of inappropriate behavior involving CPS employees, we removed them from settings where they might be in contact with students. Following their removal, we would conduct a full investigation and notify the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Chicago Public Schools needs safety transformation. City Hall needs to establish a School Patrol Division 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. 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:
- A specially trained CPD School Police Patrol officer in each school
These officers will represent a restored School Police Patrol (SPP) under their own separate CPD Commander. These officers will continuously train on how to work and communicate with young people, de-escalation techniques, proportional response, and restorative justice. They will create a reliable, on-site presence. That presence will satisfy 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. The officers should represent a mentoring presence that both encourages and inspires young people. These officers will also act as sources of intelligence-gathering and communication. The SPP will also possess the capacity to conduct investigations in coordination with CPD, other law enforcement agencies, child welfare agencies, and organizations such as DCFS.
- Public safety infrastructure, equipment and training
Public safety infrastructure means doors that can be locked, safe spaces identified and secured, and security cameras working and constantly monitored. As mayor, I will demand that SPP undergo continuous training in shooter responses, shelter-in-place, and building evacuations. I will also demand training in the process of responding quickly and appropriately to any threat to student safety, at all times and whether inside or outside the schools. This includes incidents of sexual harassment and abuse involving CPS employees, other students, or adults in the community.
- Intelligence gathering, analysis, response and proactive intervention
There is current technology that can support a virtual and social school safety net. This technology does not merely act as 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. This technology acts as a medium by which students can take responsibility to help create the kind of safe school they deserve. The application of technology will assist in the prevention of problems and address them once they occur.
Key elements of this program will include:
- Institutionalized Rapid Response/ Crisis Intervention.
- CPS will have Crisis Intervention Teams that have the capacity to intervene 24/7 in response to any situation. These teams will coordinate with the School Police Command and other state and local social service organizations like DCFS to ensure coordinated responses.
- Ombudsman’s Office.
- A Vallas Administration will implement a hotline and a structured social media. platform for CPS to utilize. We will institutionalize resources for anonymous 24/7 reporting. This reporting will manage, categorize, and disseminate analyzed information for appropriate action.
- CPS School Police Patrol Investigations.
- The CPS School Police Patrol will investigate serious cases in which children are in harm’s way or have been abused. The Law Department currently holds responsibility over this. This creates an inherent conflict of interest, as well as issues with accountability.
- Crisis Intervention Services.
We will restore the Office of Crisis Intervention. The Office of Crisis Intervention will coordinate the delivery of needed and appropriate crisis intervention services to in-need children and their families when necessary. This will 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, we will place strict reporting requirements for proper and immediate referrals to the Inspector General, DCFS, and the Cook County State Attorney’s Office. Adherence to these requirements will form 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 will allow school communities to create customized, private, and confidential social networks that focus on student safety and wellness. These apps will also crowd-source at-risk-behavior issues. (e.g. “See something, hear something, send something”).
We will design technology to address a variety of at-risk behaviors (e.g., bullying, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, drug use, and opioid addiction). Once a concern is submitted, the technology provides administrative tools to streamline the recording, tracking, and resolution of student issues. We will use systems to suggest specifically the appropriate help and restorative services and resources to meet the social and emotional needs of students.
With the right strategies, such as a sufficient CPD presence and the right technological schools, 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 half. It will reduce these costs in the long term by one-third.
The additional officers available will deploy in the police district where their assigned school resides to monitor parks, recreational events, and public places where young people are likely to gather when school is out. This presence will help reduce overtime costs.
Student Health and Safety: The Vallas Record
My entire career as a school CEO and Superintendent always included an intense focus on improving the health and welfare of students. This includes:
- Healthy Kids Healthy Minds Program: A program designed to ensure that all children have adequate health care;
- Free eyeglasses program: A program that provided tens of thousands of children with glasses annually;
- School nutrition program: A program that provided three meals a day and;
- Children’s First Fund: A fund that provided financial support to CPS families in crisis. This fund paid for over 125 funerals.
Public safety for students, faculty, and staff was not an exception. 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 to a single School Police Command.
- Provided 24/7 incident reporting and crisis intervention.
- Created an Alternative School Network to reenroll students who previously dropped out, were expelled, or were released from correctional facilities.
- Established and expanded the School Patrol to over 6,000 members
- Establish the “Wand” program. This program provided all schools with handheld wand detectors. This allowed schools to occasionally conduct random checks of students and adults in all Chicago schools.
- Established a 24/7 student emergency hotline and set up Student Support Centers that are staffed by trained young adults and overseen by veteran counselors in the majority of high schools.
- Expanded school safety drills to include shelter-in-place and active shooter training.
- Oversaw behavioral RTI to identify students with behavioral problems and provide the most appropriate responses.
- Created the Children’s First Fund that raised funds to provide financial support to families whose children had been the victims of violence.