Urbana High School’s chronic absenteeism is 53%; the entire Urbana School District 116 chronic absenteeism is 36%; the state of Illinois sits at 18%.
88% of total suspensions in 2019-2020 were Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students. 89% of out-of-school suspensions are BIPOC students. The student body breakdown of Urbana School District 116 is 37% Black, 31% White, 15% Hispanic, 5% Asian and 1% American Indian; 10% are multi-racial. The 2019-2020 school district data shows there were 410 total suspensions: 54% were Black students, 21% Hispanic, 13% multi-racial, 0% were Asian/Pacific Islander and 12% were White students. The student body breakdown indicates that Black students are punished at higher rates than their white peers.
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On 17 December 2019, Urbana Board of Education (BOE) signed a contract to approve funding of two full time armed police officers (SROs) – one at the middle school and one at the high school. The yearly cost to the school district is $327K. According to the contract, the SRO Program is to be formally evaluated two years after being implemented. To date, the BOE has not collected any evidence that that this presence returns any value for students nor do they have any planned method to evaluate the program.
USD116 is not only paying the annual salaries of the two officers ($131K per officer) but is paying, annually, for uniforms and guns (one time cost of $7K+ and a yearly cost of $2K per officer), $1.5K on annual professional development per officer, as well as a one time payment for a vehicle $40K plus an annual vehicle maintence fee of per officer of $6K. This is not a responsible use of school funds and tax payer’s money.
We must reconsider the presence of police in our schools. We know that the mere presence of police in schools serves to reinforce and accelerate the school to prison pipeline, and this is borne out by the data. According to the data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2015-2016 academic year, Black students represented 15% of enrollment in public schools across the country, yet they accounted for 31% of students who were referred to law enforcement or arrested.
For many, school is the only place to access mental health counselling and support. We must demand that the BOE prioritize the engagement, health, and well-being of UHS students. Eliminating the contract with Urbana Police Department will allow for resources to be reallocated to the supports that students truly need.
The youth are watching this moment. What will we show them and teach them? Will we teach display performative ally-ship or take bold steps toward real action & healing in the midst of anguish and uncertainty? The choice is ours.
Key Political & Organisational Supporters
Candidate, County Board District 10
- CU Action Coalition
- Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- HV Neighborhood Transformation (HVNT)
- Illinois Families for Public Schools
- Showing Up For Racial Justice Champaign-Urbana (SURJ)
- CU Trauma and Resiliency Initiative
Read my op-ed in Smile Politely on the academic opportunity gaps and data the demonstrates that young Black kids are disproportionately disciplined and pulled out of school for vague disciplinary infractions when compared to their white peers.