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Religious leader wants anti-violence efforts in Chicago schools

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(The Center Square) – Father Michael Pfleger worries Chicago city officials’ recent decision to remove school resource officers from all Chicago Public Schools could have the opposite effect of what’s intended.

“You really disrespect schools to make decisions that they felt was best for them,” Pfleger told The Center Square. “You’re saying, ‘well, we know better.’ This is their school and since when do we know better for them? I think the process was terrible and disrespectful. That’s not a progressive move, progressive is supposed to be listening to the people and having the people in the decision making.”

Soon after authorities moved to pass a resolution stipulating that the district draft a new safety plan erasing police from the equation, the plan was unanimously approved by the city’s seven-member Board of Education and is now set to be presented for final approval by June 27.

The plan already has the support of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who recently granted the board the authority to walk away from its $10.3 million contract with the Chicago Police Department when it officially expires later this year.

The ongoing movement to eliminate officers from CPS buildings first commenced in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of officers in Minneapolis. At that point, students and advocates across the city began pushing CPS to act, arguing the mere presence of police on school grounds has proven to have a disproportionately negative impact on Black students.

Later that year, CPS began allowing school councils to decide for themselves if they wanted to eliminate officers from their schools.

With at least three CPS students gunned down on or near school grounds over this year, including two in the heart of the city’s downtown area, Pfleger agrees that major change of some sort is clearly needed.

“I say this to the public schools, I say this to the parochial schools, makes no difference, why are we not teaching nonviolence and peacemaking amongst our students in every school,” he said. “Why is that not part of the curriculum from kindergarten to senior year high school, to teach our young people the skills to be peacemakers amongst their peers.”

To date, only 39 out of 634 district schools make use of school resource officers, with many more campuses electing to instead employ other tools to ensure students’ physical safety like crossing guards, security officers and security cameras to ensure students can travel safely to and from school.

Going forward, Pfleger is clear about wanting to see schools left to make their own decisions about how best to keep their students safe. In addition, he added he would like to see the city create an office of gun violence that solely focuses on the issue of gun violence and how to decrease episodes of it.

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