After Highland Park and Uvalde, CPS prepares for emergencies and supports children in case of trauma

A few dozen Chicago police officers, paramedics and other emergency personnel turned out to Julian High School on Thursday, with a mobile police command center parked outside and officials wearing neon vests visible through the lobby windows.

The team was participating in an active-fire exercise, the first in Chicago public schools since 2018, in preparation for the new school year and in the wake of mass shootings across the country – particularly the Uvalde massacre, in Texas, who left several dozen children. and dead educators.

CPS officials said the exercise would help refine their emergency plans and show families and staff they are prepared for the worst. They also announced an $8 million investment in security technology – cameras, alarm systems, metal detectors and more – as well as an expanded program to monitor and report threats of violence on social media.

But district leaders also said the CPS parents they consulted did not have the school shootings on their minds as much as the violence outside of schools.

“Universally, people feel safe in schools,” said Jadine Chou, the district’s chief safety and security officer. “People tell us that schools are always their sanctuary.

“The challenge we face is how do we make sure they also feel safe in the community.”

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez this week called on the city to help students navigate trauma and community gun violence. He said the district is building its capacity to identify children who need support, but there is often nowhere to refer them for that help. And creative ideas are needed between city agencies and community groups to keep children safe.

Since major protests in the summer of 2020 targeted the disproportionate policing and discipline of black and Latino students — and the presence of police in schools — the CPS has shifted to a so-called “holistic” approach to policing. school safety. The mental and emotional safety of students is as important as physical safety, and addressing issues at the root rather than covering them up is seen as a more caring approach.

This means supporting children who have experienced trauma, whether through violence, poverty, bullying, loss of family or something else. In the case of social media surveillance, Chou said the goal is not “Big Brother” surveillance, which the district has been accused of in the past. If a disturbing message is published, the idea is to understand the reason behind the feelings of this child.

“Our approach is that we want to understand why you did this, and in some cases it may be because someone is bullying someone,” Chou said. “So just applying a criminal charge doesn’t get to the root of it.

“It is in line with our approach to the discipline. Wouldn’t we rather have our kids closer to us when they’re going through something so we can fix that than say you need to stay out of the building.

Stacy Davis Gates, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said educators have been calling for additional resources on trauma and restorative justice for years, but resources for dealing with trauma are not fully developed or offered.

“Look at what they’re doing in Highland Park, all the resources that people in those school communities are going to be getting because of the tragedy that’s happened,” she said. “That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. That’s exactly what they deserve.

“We have to fight to get a fraction of what they are going to get because there is political will, because there is recognition of their humanity, because there is love for these people. “

Davis Gates said one social worker and one nurse at each school – key wins in CTU’s 2019 contract after an 11-day strike – are “not even the bare minimum”.

“Our violence is sustained. There is no post-traumatic in Chicago,” said Davis Gates. “Our violence is persistent, which means you can experience this type of trauma or tragedy more than once. And people bring that trauma into school communities.

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