Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a core Communities United project. VOYCE develops a leadership pipeline of low-income youth who are directly impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. The VOYCE leadership pipeline works to advance safe and supportive school climates, and promotes the expansion of restorative justice practices and other trauma-informed supports, such as increasing resources for mental health in schools. Through VOYCE, young people have created the nation’s most comprehensive statewide school discipline reform (Illinois SB100), which ended zero tolerance discipline policies at all publicly-funded schools in Illinois, placed stronger standards on the use of exclusionary discipline, ended practices such as discipline fines and counseling out, and created a thoughtful framework to expand restorative practices in schools.
In 2018, VOYCE youth leaders launched the Rethinking Safety Campaign, a campaign working to end the reliance on law enforcement in schools and expand resources for mental and behavioral health supports in schools.
In 2020, as a direct result of years of organizing efforts and amidst the national uprisings, 17 schools voted to remove police, and the budget for school police was cut in half by $15 million. The Board of Education also passed a resolution calling for the development of a new process to create school safety plans that could be implemented without school resource officers designed after rigorous, authentic engagement with school community stakeholders via the development of a Whole School Safety Committee.
Alongside partners Community Organizing on Family Issues (COFI), The ARK of St. Sabina, BUILD Inc, and Mikva Challenge, VOYCE worked with CPS to lead the District’s community engagement process and develop a plan for reinvestment in holistic approaches to whole school safety.
Through this process alongside our partner organizations, we engaged over 650 youth, parents, and other stakeholders in developing a plan to dramatically change school safety, particularly for our Black and Brown communities. Led by the expertise of youth and their parents, VOYCE and partners presented seven key strategies to the Board of Education for the schools that still have SROs to consider, to effectively phase out police.
For more information about VOYCE or get involved, please contact Maria Degillo at [email protected] or at 773-583-1387.