By Guy Page
Taken together, three Vermont Senate bills would expel active-duty police from schools, limit suspensions of law-breaking students, and prevent off-duty cops and retired military carrying guns from responding to a school shooting.
S63 would expel armed, on-duty police officers assigned to schools – AKA “school resource officers” – from Vermont public schools. Their presence leads to unacceptably high arrests – particularly of minorities – and feeds the “school-to-prison pipeline,” say its authors.
Last week, Senate Education reviewed S16, which would give Vermont educators data needed to reduce minority suspensions and expulsions “at the local level.” Sponsored by Sens. Richard Sears (D-Bennington) and Kesha Ram (D-Chittenden), it would create the School Discipline Advisory Council “to collect and analyze data regarding school discipline in Vermont public and approved independent schools” because nationally “Black students (representing approximately 15 percent of the U.S. student population) are suspended and expelled at a rate two times greater than white students (representing approximately 50 percent of the U.S. student population).”
The presence of police in schools leads to too many arrests, and too many of the arrestees are minorities, says S.63, sponsored by Sens. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor), Ruth Hardy (D-Addison), Chris Pearson (D/P Chittenden), and Anthony Pollina (P-Washington). The bill finds:
- The presence of school resource officers (SROs) in schools leads to an increase in student referrals to law enforcement, arrests, and convictions, even for low-level offenses.
- A 2016 report on the nationwide school-to-prison pipeline found that a student’s referral to law enforcement for lower-level offenses is between 1.38 and 1.83 times higher for schools that have regular contact with SROs than those schools that do not have such contact.
- Nationally, schools with law enforcement presence reported 3.5 times as many arrests as schools without law enforcement presence.
Students who are black and/or have disabilities also are arrested at higher-than-average rates, say statistics cited in the bill. S63 paints the presence of cops as the problem, and offers a ready solution: “Neither a school, a school district, nor a supervisory union shall contract, or otherwise engage, for the services of a school resource officer.” The estimated $2 million spent on school cops instead would be spent on mental health and social workers and other alternatives. Expelling cops from schools is part of a 10-step “Plan to Reimagine Policing in Vermont” adopted by the ACLU of Vermont, Migrant Justice, Vermont Legal Aid, and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Proponents of SROs say they offer schools an additional measure of safety, improved culture and climate with regards to responding and preventing school-based crimes, enhancing and fostering a positive relationship among the youth, educators, and law enforcement, according to a 2018 Bedden & Associates study. The Bedden study says that in addition to ‘patrol’ duties, SROs take the role of a guest speaker, lecturer, and teacher in the classroom, assisting teachers in fulfilling evidence-based curricula such as the Second Step, Bullying Prevention Program, Gang Resistance Education and Training. They also educate students on unlawful inquiries, substance abuse, youth-centered offenses including dating as violence, laws and constitutional rights, conflict resolution and restorative justice as well as law enforcement as a profession.
Neither should parents concerned about school shootings expect off-duty cops or retired military to respond. Chittenden Democrat Sen. Phil Baruth’s S30 ban on carrying guns in some public places would not provide this exemption, he told Senate Judiciary January 27:
“People have advanced the argument, unsuccessfully, that off-duty police officers, should be allowed to, if they are on school grounds, in effect to act as a resource officer. I have to say I think, it’s ah, in other words, if they perceive trouble they should be allowed to go in with their firearm, and I personally have always opposed that because I’ve never written a gun safety bill that didn’t have an exemption for active-duty or on-duty, because I think that’s important. But there was a push some years back to allow retired or off-duty to carry on school grounds, and I think that would be, in effect, just getting rid of the prohibition on weapons.”
Baruth told Capitol Police Chief Matt Romei that too many of the January 6 Capitol rioters were ex-military or police:
“Personally, one of the things that I find most troubling about what happened at the capital, was, as they begin to charge these people, there are I think 400 active cases, it’s turning out that many of them are off-duty police officers, retired military, active duty military, and that’s within the group that were the most coordinated and violent; at the US Capital.
“I think sometimes people think of off-duty police officers, and you, you said it yourself, that somebody who should be allowed to use their weapon in case they’re at a school and something happens, but I would just caution us…there’s, there’s growing evidence of radicalization in police forces, military, national guard etc., and so any provision that would allow those people to carry off-duty seems to me to be, ah, ah, really asking for trouble these days.”