Special Training For School Police:
How Do Young People Feel About It?

As lawmakers move to require additional training for police in Illinois schools, five young people weigh in on whether it will make a difference.

Editor's note: This story was produced in collaboration with City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab.

Legislation that would require specialized training for all school resource officers or police officers permanently stationed in Illinois schools now awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature as the Senate-approved bill passed the state House Friday.

The training curriculum would include conflict resolution and crisis intervention techniques specifically designed to address working with youth.

The House vote on SB 2925, the Safe Students, Trained Officers Bill, comes a week after the latest mass school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, and as the nation continues to grapple with school safety issues. Young people across the country have been weighing in, and one of the things they’ve been discussing is whether police belong in schools at all.

In Chicago, where police officers already patrol many of the city’s public schools and often play a disciplinary role, the issue has had a different focus — less on the numbers of officers and more on the relationship between police and students, as well as the implications of police training.

Nearly everyone that works with youth in Chicago Public Schools — teachers, social workers, school counselors, principals — undergoes specialized training. But until this recent legislation, this hasn’t been required for police officers assigned to work in schools.

Which is why City Bureau and Curious City decided to take on this question from a Chicago high school student:

How should police assigned to Chicago Public Schools be trained to work with youth?

Even as lawmakers push for the training bill, the debate continues on what that training should look like, who will pay for it, how it will be implemented — and whether police should patrol school hallways at all. We wanted to understand what young people in Chicago think, so we asked current students and recent graduates about their experiences with officers at school.

Though the students we spoke with all felt that police shouldn’t be in schools at all, they told us that if officers are going to be present, more training could improve relations between police and students.

Their interviews have been edited for space and clarity.

Nita Tennyson

High school: Perspectives High School '16

Affiliation: Assata’s Daughters, a black female-centered organizing and political action group for young people

Age: 20

What experiences have shaped your views on the role of police in schools?

When I was a student at Perspectives High School, my cousin got arrested because they thought he stole a girl’s phone. The police came upstairs, they handcuffed him and roughed him up. They slammed him on the lockers. The police room in that school is this small room with no windows and just two police desks. That’s their headquarter room, like a holding room. He couldn’t leave — and it’s real hot in there. They held my cousin in that room for four hours. He couldn’t get food or water. They don’t tell your parents when you’re arrested or detained. They don’t tell you why you get arrested half the time. We knew this time, because they stopped the whole class to find the phone. He really didn’t have the phone. They never apologized. They were just really aggressive with him. They kept calling him boy or n-----. He has a name. His name is DaShawn.

If you could design a training curriculum for police in schools, what would it include?

If the police learned how to do restorative work with my cousin, they could have stopped the whole class, like, “Is there someone in this room who stole the phone? Why would you steal the phone? Do you need something?” That’s what they’re lacking — the ability to help. People usually steal because they need something. The police need training on how to work with kids who are experiencing trauma. You never know what’s happened. Somebody could have just lost they brother last night or they mother. They might just need someone to give them a hug, not pull a weapon on them.

What do you wish police knew about you?

Police need to learn who students are. You need to know their names. You need to learn their favorite colors. You need to know who their parents are when they come up for their report cards. You need to know all that. They need to know them inside and out.

Khadijah Benson

High school: Prosser Career Academy '18

Affiliation: Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), a youth collaborative organization focused on education and racial justice

Age: 18

What experiences have shaped your views on the role of police in schools?

I would get kicked out of the house, and that led me to be homeless most of my freshman year. But no matter what, I always tried to go to school. And one of the times I did come to school, I was pulled out of class during first period by a police officer and I didn’t know what was going on. I kept asking questions and they said, “I’m not allowed to tell you.”

I see my guardian was standing there when they pulled me to the main office. I found out that she sent the police up to the school to have me arrested. She made up a whole bunch of things saying I tried to attack her, assault her, stuff like that, but it wasn’t true.

So I was arrested that day, and it was about the first month of high school. I had interacted with the police before that, outside of school, but this really added to my trust issues because I thought that school’s the one place where I can be myself and be safe and protected.

What do you wish police knew about you?

Most of my interactions with police officers is something where it feels like I’m not being heard and they’re just looking past me and just trying to shrug me to the side. Maybe they’re looking at me that way differently because I’m a woman, or I’m young, or I’m black. But just because I’m all these things doesn’t mean I’m a troublemaker.

Yazmin Jimenez

High school: Benito Juarez Community Academy '18

Affiliation: No advocacy affiliation

Age: 18

What do you wish police knew about you?

I’m not somebody that’s trying to look for trouble, although I can give off that image. I’m just kind of serious. If you just say, “Hey, you just shouldn’t do this,” I’ll respect that. I want to respect your personal space and I don’t wanna make anybody uncomfortable. You know, I’m a good kid, and my mom and my dad raised me to be better — not to cause problems.

Should police be in schools?

Yes and no. I get why you need them, especially in the news, you know, there’s school shooters and now [schools] are getting threats. And in that sense, I get why it would give you more security. But at the same time, I feel that creates a little distrust with the students because a lot of people might not have had the best interactions with police officers. So I get it, but at the same time I have mixed feelings about it.

Emily Jade Aguilar

High school: Steinmetz College Prep '17

Affiliation: : Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a youth collaborative organization focused on education and racial justice

Age 18

If you could design a training curriculum for police in schools, what would it include?

I definitely think it’s important for not only police officers to interact with young people, but with teachers and staff. [It would be helpful if] the teachers would tell the school [police] officers, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that this student is going through something,” so that officers would know that “Emily is roaming around the hallways because she’s trans and her dad was deported and her mom doesn’t understand her; she’s going through a lot of different stages in her transition and she doesn’t know how to cope with it.”

What do you wish police knew about you?

For me, being a trans woman, there’s a lot of stigma. My trans sisters are scared that one day they’re gonna be stopped by police officers and they’re gonna get misgendered and they’re gonna be harassed. I think I would not only want police officers to understand that every trans individual is different, but I would also ask for more training around that because that’s what the majority of trans women that I speak with are dealing with right now.

Antonio “Tonii” Maggitt

High school: McKinley Lakeside Leadership Academy '17

Affiliation: Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a youth collaborative organization focused on education and racial justice

Age: 19

What experiences have shaped your views on the role of police in schools?

In my eighth-grade school year, I was very mentally and emotionally traumatized, going through a lot at home. Traveling from house to house and worrying about whether or not I was going to have a roof over my head at the age of 13, 14. I went to school one day and I couldn’t focus on schoolwork so I got permission from a teacher to go to my counselor. As I was walking through the halls, a school resource officer was there and he thought I was cutting class so he started to follow me through the halls. And once he caught up to me, he wrestled me to the ground. And next thing I know, I’m being handcuffed and taken out. It looked like the whole police department was outside for one student, and I was later suspended for two weeks and expelled for the rest of my eighth-grade school year.

If you could spend money on something to make school safer, what would you spend it on?

We’re living in a time where art and music is booming and students are really interested in those types of programs and support systems that will set these kids up for the future.

I know there’s a lot of schools on the South and West sides that do not have art class, do not have a music class, and don’t have a librarian in their library.

When they don’t have those types of programs in schools, they look for a support system outside of school, and that goes to gangs and other bad things. So when they don’t have the support system at home or school? They take a very bad, negative route.