Morton students and alumni speak out against ‘gang contracts’ at school board meeting

In the middle is a gray concrete building. The middle of the building is black framed windows from the door entrance to the ceiling. The entrance has a black awning above with the white words “J. Sterling Morton High School District.” An american flag is posted to the right of the building. Small trees are in the foreground. In the background is a bright, clear blue sky.

April Alonso / Cicero Independiente

The Morton High School District 201 headquarters building in Cicero, Ill. At the school board meeting on June 9, 2021, residents voiced their concerns about the district’s use of gang contracts in schools.

This story was originally published by Cicero Independiente. Leer en español.

Earlier this month, Cicero Independiente, Injustice Watch, and Type Investigations revealed that more than 100 high school students in the Morton high school district have signed a form called a “gang contract,” often for vague or seemingly subjective reasons and without fully understanding its consequences. Information from these gang contracts has been shared with police and they are a part of Cicero’s long history of targeting alleged gang members.

The investigation prompted several current and former Morton students to attend the District 201 board meeting held on June 9.

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“I honestly found it so surprising and so infuriating when I read [the investigation]. I had no idea this was going on,” said Karen, a current junior at Morton East while addressing the board during the public portion of the meeting. Holding back tears, Karen urged the board to end the use of the gang contracts because “the last thing these kids need is to be labeled as criminals.”

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More than 100 students in seven years have signed “gang contracts” for a suspected gang affiliation.

Elaine, a student at Morton West, urged the board to discontinue the use of the contracts and find solutions that support students.

“One thing to remember is that bad behavior is not gang related,” Elaine told the board. “I feel like there’s a misconception with teachers and staff about students who act up.”

“Pretty much all of the young people I work with are in gangs. Most of them have substance abuse issues,” Anderson, a Morton alum who is now a youth program coordinator at a nonprofit, told the board. “ We do not use the gang database, gang contracts, we do not work with the police department. We have protocols on how to keep our youth safe.”

The investigation found that 116 different police officers have worked inside the Morton schools on a part-time basis since 1996, according to district records. Since 2013, at least five of those officers have been members of the Cicero Police Department’s Gang Crimes Tactical Unit.

One board member, Melissa Cundari, told the public that prior to the meeting the board requested that Superintendent Tim Truesdale revisit the gang contract policy. “I personally don’t like it. I think we can do better,” she told attendees. Cundari also addressed audience worries about police in school buildings and said that the district needs to reexamine their presence in the schools.

Leslie Cortez, another Morton alum, was among those who directed concerns with the gang contract to the board.

Notes from the board meeting will be posted on the district’s page here. The next board meeting is scheduled for July 14, 2021 at 5:30 at 5801 W. Cermak Road. The board will be reviewing a preliminary draft of the district budget in July and will be voting on a final one in September, according to a presentation by Dennis Forst, chief financial officer of the district.

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