Last week, the principal of a District 65 elementary school called the Evanston Police Department to restrain a six-year-old kindergartner who was having an emotional outburst. There were a number of witnesses to the incident--which, they say, was not a threat to other students--and it quickly became a big topic on several Evanston Facebook groups and D65 parents' personal Facebook walls. Many parents and community members engaged in discussion, expressing outrage, questioning the decision to involve a uniformed police officer to manage such a young child's behavior (there were no weapons involved), and calling on D65 leaders to clarify their policies and procedures and school personnel training.
The anger has been exacerbated by the fact that the six-year-old in question is a boy who is Black. In addition, according to those who know him, the child, who lives with his grandmother, is currently struggling at school. Betsy Wilson, the D65 parent who initially posted about the situation, wrote: "My son had emotional outbursts when he was that age. He had trouble sitting still. He disrupted class. My son's friend had more severe outbursts. He would scream and throw objects when he was emotionally flooded. The school’s response to both boys was measured to their age and emotional development: my son and his friend were occasionally kept in from recess or brought to the social-work office to calm down in a quiet environment. When my friend's son was throwing things ... he was taken to the principal’s office, and the administration called his caregiver to take him home. My son and his friend are white. On the other hand, in response to this six-year-old---this Black six-year-old boy, the school administration called a uniformed police officer." Wilson made it clear on her post that her intention wasn't to name the school or the principal, and of course not the student or is family, but, "to focus on the policy and how to move forward." "A uniformed police officer is never the appropriate response to a kindergartener’s outburst," she said. "While District 65 administration espouses a commitment to equity, they impose disciplinary practices on our students of color at a higher rate and in far more severe forms than white students." I spoke to one of the school's PTA presidents, who asked not to be named, who told me that she disagreed with the decision and called it "totally unacceptable." "No young child deserves a uniformed, armed police officer being called as the resort to address their behavior. And there's a much bigger impact when it's a child of color. Especially a Black boy," she said. "The question is, how subjective is the District's policy? This policy, amongst others, permits students of color to be disproportionately disciplined with harsher consequences. Our concern now is to demand policy change to prevent this from happening to another student." In an email to Dear Evanston last night, D65 Superintendent Paul Goren said, "The District works in partnership with Evanston Police in many different ways. The police serve most importantly as first responders in case of an emergency or a crisis. "They also provide opportunities for mentorship of African American males through their Officer and a Gentlemen program. We have two School Resource Officers (SROs) assigned to District 65 who serve as partners and liaisons between the Evanston Police and our schools and school communities. We see great importance in the relationships that the SROs build with students, families, and school staff. When we have security issues they are our first point of contact with the department. "That said, my team and I are examining closely our current practices on when it is appropriate to call the SROs or the police into a school situation. We are also more than willing to discuss these issues with our school board, community members, district staff, and union leadership either at a policy meeting or a future board meeting." I reached out to Evanston Police Department Chief Demitrous Cook early this afternoon to ask for his thoughts on whether this incident warranted a police response. He said he had just heard about the incident and would release a statement later today. Some Facebook commenters focused on the trauma such a young child, particularly a Black boy, would experience. Others wondered why school staff weren't able to de-escalate the situation. "I'm furious and disgusted," said one parent. "Totally outrageous," said another. "A kindergartner! But of course he's Black. This would never happen to a white kid," said Petra Guy, a 5th ward resident who runs a home day care and has biracial children. "We know he had no weapons, we know he wasn’t dealing drugs, and we know he weighs under 60 pounds," another parent, who has two elementary-school-age children in the District, told me. "We know that all schools have people trained in CPI* and they should be able to de-escalate the situation and restrain a child," she said. "We know that this is not the first time this has happened. We need to focus on the policy and making clear guidelines so that this does not happen in the future."
*The Crisis Prevention Institute provides nonviolent crisis intervention training designed to teach best practices for managing difficult situations and disruptive behaviors.