By Guy Page
In the aftermath of the temporary removal of BHS school principal Deb Beaupre for pulling a fire alarm to break up a fight, some people on social media are wondering why this appeared to be her best option – and why it’s her job to break up fights.
“All I am saying is I do not think pulling the fire alarm was the answer,” said a Facebook commenter on a TV news story. “What I do think is that maybe resource officers should be put back into schools.”
Several commenters stressed that educators are wary of trying to physically stop a fight, fearing pushback from litigous parents.
The commenter raises an important issue: where were the Burlington Police Department school resource officers (SROS) – police trained in youth conflict de-escalation – when the altercation occurred? And just how bad was the ‘altercation’ – a fight between two people or a full-blown melee between groups of people?
Here’s what Vermont Daily Chronicle has learned so far:
- There were no school resource officers at Burlington High School. “That was something that was chosen to be removed,” Shannon Trammell, spokesperson for the Burlington Police Department, told VDC this morning.
- Information on the nature and extent of the fight is limited to the scarce details already shared by Beaupre in a school letter (see related story, today). BPD was not a ‘first responder’ to the incident, Trammell said. VDC has contacted the Burlington Fire Department and the BHS administrative office seeking more information.
There weren’t any SROs at BHS when the fight started because in the spring of 2021, the Burlington School District removed them – despite the school’s own poll indicating that most parents opposed the move. The following is excerpted from an April 7, 2021 VDC news story titled ‘Cops Out of Burlington Schools’:
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, 2023 recommended eliminating one School Resource Officer position and housing the remaining SRO at the police station. The Burlington School Board shortly thereafter 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.”
Following a school shooter scare this month, 153 Plainfield/Marshfield residents signed a petition calling for reinstatement of a school resource officer at Twinfield High School. To date, no action has been taken.