By Guy Page
School Resource Officers (police assigned to schools) will no longer be stationed at Burlington city schools, the school board decided last night.
Citing disproportionate arrests of black youth and finding that “members of the BIPOC community have expressed that the mere presence of police in the school is traumatic for them,” the Burlington School District Safety Task Force February 15 recommended eliminating one School Resource Officer position and housing the remaining SRO at the police station. The Burlington School Board Tuesday night approved the task force recommendations.
The remaining SRO may only enter the school for scheduled events or in event of an emergency. Many of the SRO’s traditional educational and community bridge-building duties will be conducted by non-police staff members.
“Black juveniles made up between 31-60% of juvenile SRO arrests across the four school years yet occur at only 16% in the school population,” the Feb. 15 report concludes. “Therefore, despite decreases in arrests and a lower rate of arrests by the SROs compared to non-SRO police, the Black juveniles in the school and the community are still disproportionately arrested.”
Community support for cutting SRO’s was mixed, the report said.
On the one hand, “over 1,000 community members attended a city council meeting, asking that the police be completely removed from the schools.” However it also noted a community survey that seemed to show reservations about eliminating SROs from school. “The community survey conducted by the task force showed that 27% of the community thinks they should not be in the schools at all (53% said they should and 20% were unsure). It should be acknowledged that in this survey we had a difficult time reaching the New American community; therefore, the majority of responders (57%) were white parents.”
In its deliberations last night before approving the study recommendations, the school board did not discuss the security impacts of not having a police officer onsite, Ward 7 school board member Monika Ivancic told Vermont Daily today. The proximity of the middle school on Main Street and the (temporary) high school on Cherry Street should permit a prompt response in event of an emergency, she said.
The Burlington City School District decision to eliminate onsite SRO patrol presence follows an as yet-unsuccessful attempt by Vermont senators – including one from Burlington’s Chittenden County – to eliminate SROs statewide. As reported March 4 by Vermont Daily, S63 would prohibit school districts from hiring SROs, who are armed police officers trained and assigned to work in schools. The presence of SROs leads to unacceptably high arrests – particularly of minorities – and feeds the “school-to-prison pipeline,” say its authors, Sens. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor), Ruth Hardy (D-Addison), Chris Pearson (D/P Chittenden), and Anthony Pollina (P-Washington).
Yet the presence of a School Resource Officer deterred Jack Sawyer from carrying out his planned 2018 Valentine’ Day weekend mass shooting at Fair Haven Union High School, the school’s superintendent told the Ericka Redic Show in March. A bill introduced by two Republican senators from Rutland County would add SRO funding for all school districts and prohibit elimination of their positions.