Permit pepper spray throughout my school day


Megan Mesikapp

More stories from Megan Mesikapp


Charlotte Price

Illustration by Charlotte Price

The hot pink pepper spray tucked in the bottom of my backpack has never caused a problem at morning security check — but when junior Audrey Thomas had it outside of her backpack during a routine security check, she was told it had to be turned in. 

Thomas was selected for the routine security check on the morning of Nov. 18, 2022. After setting the metal detector off multiple times, she finally realized her keys were in her pocket. 

“My keys set it off, not the pepper spray. So then I took it out and I showed her I had it and she told me to take the pepper spray to Door M, for security. That was pretty much all,” Thomas said. 

The security guard stationed at the metal detector neither gave Thomas further instruction nor followed up with her to see if she really turned it into the security desk at Door M.

This begs the question, are there rules about students carrying pepper spray or not?

According to the CPS Student Rights & Responsibilities pamphlet, pepper spray falls under section 4-13 and 5-11 listed as a weapon. So, students are not allowed to carry pepper spray on their person on school property. 

Despite that, I believe CPS students should be allowed to carry pepper spray in school. 

I never go anywhere without my lanyard. It holds my daily essentials: my keys, wallet and driver’s license. However there is one item that has yet to be used, and has clung to my lanyard for four years: pepper spray. 

My reason for carrying that small spray is purely for personal security. When taking public transportation there is a part of me that knows if something were to go awry I have a way to defend myself, and in that I take comfort. 

Similarly, Thomas’s father wanted her to begin to carry pepper spray this year because she takes the bus home from school.

“He was like, make sure you have some when you’re coming home and it’s dark outside or anything, just make sure you have it. So that’s the main reason. I’ve never actually used it,” Thomas said. 

Security has never made a comment to Thomas about her pepper spray until that morning where it was visible. I have also never been told I need to turn it in, and I have carried it with me into school daily since freshman year. 

Lane’s Chief of Security, Michael Smith, said he instructs security to immediately take pepper spray if a student is seen with it.

“[They should] take it away and put it on my desk. The student can come at the end of the school day to pick it up from me,” Smith said. 

However that is not what happened with Thomas. Plus, if every single student who carried pepper spray for safety reasons tried to pick it up from the security office after school, it would be an undeniable burden for both students and security. Allowing all CPS students to carry their pepper spray with them throughout the school day would take away that inconvenience.

It is important to note the issue of pepper spray being released on school grounds has been an issue in another CPS school. In 2019, six students at Morgan Park High School were charged with disorderly conduct involving pepper spray in a string of incidents. 

Student punishments for the incident were based on restorative practices, according to Femi Skanes, the old principal of Morgan Park High School. 

“Restorative practices say that you take a holistic look at a situation and honestly, this is where an equity lens comes in,” Skanes said. “Because every student in every situation may or may not get the same type of response.”

At Lane, if there were to be an incident involving pepper spray, restorative practices would also be used, according to Smith. 

As opposed to a one punishment fits all approach, restorative practices address situations in a way that focuses on repairing the harm that has been done. Therefore, if restorative practices are being used in the cases of pepper spray it shows that each case is truly unique. Every student who carries pepper spray has a personal reason. 

CPS should no longer list pepper spray as the equivalent to a weapon in the Student Rights & Responsibilities pamphlet, because not all students carry with intent of harm. Although Skanes disagrees with the removal of pepper spray from the Student Rights & Responsibilities pamphlet, she does realize that the core of the issue lies with students who use pepper spray for harmful purposes. 

“I think that the bigger issue is, how do we deal with students who intentionally do malicious things. I think that’s the bigger problem,” Skanes said. 

If pepper spray were to be removed from the Student Rights & Responsibilities pamphlet it could potentially have a negative effect, according to Skanes. Especially today, in a world after the COVID-19 pandemics’s peak.  

“The impact of [removing pepper spray] is actually major,” Skanes said. “So the thing about an aerosol irritant, the reason it is so dangerous, is because if students have any type of respiratory issues, it can have a major impact. And now, see, in 2019, we were pre-COVID. But in 2023, we’re hopefully at the tail end of COVID. So now you have more students who have a possibility of more respiratory issues.”

It should be mentioned that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 14.5% of teens ages 12-16 years old have lasting respiratory issues for up to five weeks after being diagnosed with COVID. This is an important statistic to note, and student health is certainly a key factor to consider when listing objects not allowed in schools. However I think it is a small enough percentage that students carrying pepper spray on them throughout the day would not have negative consequences. In other words, the risk is worth the reward. Students can feel more safe and both groups of students and staff do not have to go through time consuming efforts to collect pepper spray.  

As a teenage girl, I find it puzzling that there is such a frenzy over an object I correlate my personal safety with. Even though I am able to carry it at Lane without difficulty, girls at other CPS schools don’t have the same privilege that I do. If I attended another high school I believe that my pepper spray being confiscated daily would become so troublesome that I would stop bringing it. Doing so would put my personal safety outside of school grounds at risk, because now I have no protection. 

CPS needs to reevaluate their Student Rights & Responsibilities pamphlet in regards to students carrying pepper spray. That object is an important safety measure for many students, and confiscating it during the day could lead to potential student harm. One thing I know is my pepper spray won’t be leaving my lanyard with all my other daily essentials any time soon.