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The District 202 School Board at its April 8 meeting unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Evanston that governs reciprocal reporting of offenses and the continued deployment of School Resource Officers (SROs) to Evanston Township High School. A third part of the agreement continues the employment of a post-secondary counselor.
Two SROs will be deployed at ETHS during the academic year and one in the summer.
The agreement states the jurisdiction and authority of the police and the school and provides the limits and responsibilities of the SROs on school property.
Duties of the SROs
The SROs will be Illinois Certified Police Officers who have been trained in gang resistance and alcohol/drug-resistance curricula and in handling an active shooter. They will have verbal, written and interpersonal skills, knowledge of and experience in matters involving cultural diversity and an affinity for young people. They must be calm, patient, approachable, self-directed and collaborative, according to the agreement.
Although there will be daily communication between the SROs and the school administration, the SROs’ chain of command is that of the Evanston Police Department. The SROs will have only a limited involvement in school discipline, but if an incident relates to a crime that originates on school property, the SROs will have a responsibility to report it to the Police Department.
An SRO dealing with a student suspected of violating a law will first use restorative actions to address it. Restorative actions, such as counseling and community service, are designed to address the problem and find a long-term solution while keeping the juvenile out of the criminal justice system.
Student records are protected, and the SROs shall have access to them only as needed. ETHS may refuse to disclose student records unless there is a warrant, court order or other legal and prescribed means of obtaining the records.
High school officials must report activities of ETHS students that involve or are suspected to involve criminal gang activities; criminal sexual offenses; violations of ordinances involving weapons, sales or possession of drugs or other intoxicants; fights or violent activity that might spill over into the community; acts of vandalism; hate crimes; any battery against teacher or other ETHS employee; other activities that threaten the safety of people on the high school campus; and reports of drug deals or a person with a firearm.
Under most circumstances, the police will share law-enforcement records with school officials when a student has been arrested or taken into custody for a violation of certain criminal acts, such as a weapons or a controlled-substances act. The police will also share information about a minor student who is under investigation in a matter directly related to school safety.
In each instance, the name of the arrestee or suspect may be disclosed, but the name of the victim, if any, will likely remain confidential.
Under the Juvenile Court Act, these reports shall be kept in a secure location and not be considered public records subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Board member Gretchen Livingston and ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon comment on the importance of having the School Resource Officers at ETHS.
“I think it’s important to highlight that, within this agreement, the City underwrites the cost of our SROs,” Ms. Livingston said. “I think it’s embodied pretty well in this agreement the significance of having School Resource Officers in ETHS and how this agreement –[and] our historic relationship [and] the way this school operates – leads to, I would say, a positive use of SROs, in sharp contrast, I think, to the experience other schools have with a negative police presence.
“This is a different kind of situation, and I think we’ve taken pains in this agreement to make that abundantly clear.”
ETHS encompasses 1.3 million square feet, Dr. Witherspoon said, and “on a given day, we have 4,000 or sometimes 5,000 people in the building.
“On the importance of having school resource officers in the school –just pick up the newspaper and see the threats that can exist in schools today and know we feel so much safer – and I speak for the adults and the students in this school – knowing that we have trained police officers in this school to provide us with that extra measure of onsite safety.”
More importantly, he added, is the community policing philosophy that the SROs bring. “It’s the idea of simply being present not just for law enforcement but for developing the relationships within the community
“Students see these officers, get to know them and realize they’re not to be a threat to students but to present themselves in the event a school safety issue arises.”
At the Feb. 11 meeting, District 202 Board members approved an agreement with the City of Evanston describing the use, and limitations, of body-worn cameras on school property.