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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
terrorists,” Jackson observed. “I’m convinced that high school classrooms should be as safe as airports. Teachers and students should be as safe as pilots and passengers.”
The apparent connection between problems of rising youth violence in the community and in the schools also attracted the interest of recently elected Mayor Richard Daley. As a former state’s attorney, Daley was ready and eager to tackle this issue. School safety represented the convergence of two of Daley’s core campaign issues—crime and education. Efforts to increase the safety of students promised to draw the support of both the teachers and parents of public schoolchildren.
The Daley administration sought a policy solution that could be implemented systemwide and, it was hoped, bring rapid and dramatic results. Such a solution would require widespread compliance and therefore the support of targeted schools as well as the Board of Education— which was charged with setting the overall budget and implementing education policies for the school system as a whole. The support of individual schools was necessary because, under the school system’s 1988 decentralization mandate (Illinois Public Act 85-1418), each school’s local school council (LSC) was given discretion over most matters of policy implementation—including school security and discipline.
The prevailing attitude among the LSCs was reflected in the comments of Sheila Castillo, executive director of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, who told the Chicago Reporter, “Each [school] should decide which measures are appropriate, which could include at-random searches, selective use of detectors, or anti-gang programs.” So it would have been politically imprudent for the mayor or the City Council to impose specific measures on the entire school system without first obtaining a measure of support from the LSCs as well as the Board of Education
The support of the LSCs and the board were by no means guaranteed. First, many local school councils were carefully nurturing their emergent autonomy—especially with respect to discretionary spending—and were therefore disinclined to concede authority to the central administration. Similarly, the board, until 1995, consisted of 15 members who were not appointed by the mayor. This fact, along with the presence of public input before and at each meeting, meant that the board felt accountable to the general public as well as the central administration. One board member, who served during the period 1990 to 1995, reported that she conscientiously fielded calls from the public “all the time.” She accordingly described the activity of the board as “very political,” resulting in long debates on many issues.
Thus, implementing any systemwide education reforms in Chicago required a broader base of support than is necessary in most policy do