DeKalb’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) met last week. The city has not yet posted the video of the meeting although typically it posts the next day. At least two of us saw a city staff member turn on the camera, so perhaps the reason for the delay is due to less-than-stellar conduct, as described here. Fortunately — because I don’t expect the recording to see the light of day anytime soon — I attended the meeting myself and can offer my impressions.
HRC intended to explore how City of DeKalb and District 428 Schools handle school security, with particular focus on the role of the school resource police officers, or SROs. They got a whopper of a snow job instead. HRC invited the superintendent of schools along with school security personnel. In my opinion, 2-3 guests would have sufficed, but of course it’s important to outnumber the committee when your narrative doesn’t quite match the facts. So 8 people showed up, including DeKalb’s police chief, mayor and city manager.
The latter, by the way, found it difficult to keep his hands off the superintendent to the point where he disrupted the meeting in progress to leave his seat and go greet her arrival with a kiss and then to linger cheek-to-cheek, probably to whisper but I sat on the wrong side of them to say for sure.
As for the actual business of the meeting, the guests pushed a narrative that the school culture, SROs included, is so gosh-durned nurturing that it’s only ever allowed SROs to ticket children rarely and reluctantly.
Their failure to acknowledge policies that have caused harm to students and families, including but not limited to financial mayhem, is not only offensive but easily disprovable. Here’s a (more organized) list of the reasons to reject the rainbows-and-unicorns narrative about the ticketing of students that I shared near the end of the meeting:
- In an investigative report published last spring, reporters described a visit to DeKalb’s police station to see the prosecutions of schoolchildren for themselves.
- Reporters constructed a database using data obtained from law enforcement via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. DeKalb’s in the database with 135 citations.
- District 428 requested additional SROs partially on the basis of the number of in-school citations, including ticketing of children for more than 30 incidents of fighting during the 2021-2022 school year.
- Citation data I obtained via FOIA requests includes students who were ticketed in school for fighting or battery and hit with fines and fees exceeding $1,000.
- The city’s new contract with the school district, signed in June, still explicitly allows SROs to ticket children in school at their own discretion.
It’s possible SROs may be writing fewer citations in schools now, because Illinois appears to be on track to ban it. Both the governor and the state superintendent have condemned the practice and promised to work with state legislators to close the loophole that allows it. Moreover, pursuit of a ban has since been reinforced by the attorney general’s findings of racial disparities in ticket issuance.
So ticketing in schools is probably on the way out. Still, children are also cited outside of their schools, and because documents obtained via FOIA suggest issues with the administrative hearing program more generally, I hope HRC will continue its inquiries in that direction.