Amidst the national wave of protests and demonstrations against police violence, it is imperative that we are introspective of the police that are on our own campuses. It has been made abundantly clear by demonstrations, studies, and a plethora of examples that police need to be removed from educational institutions and their funding redistributed to more essential services. Despite this, the Sequoia Union High School District recently approved a budget for the School Resource Officer program that allocates $120,000, or $30,000 to each of the four high schools in the district. Our school district has failed to observe the clear demands of police defunding by activists with their tone-deafness.
Schools within the SUHSD have School Resource Officers (SRO), who work with administrators, security, and other staff to create safety plans for the school while also acting as on-campus police by enforcing the law, and often school policy as well. They are allegedly meant to increase the safety and wellbeing of students on campus, in response to an increase in school shootings and campus violence.
With this, many argue that the SROs can be a benefit to campus environments, notably in situations where time is scarce and an immediate response is necessary.
“If there’s a police emergency on campus, I’m already there and I can get support staff immediately,” said SRO Roman Gomez. “I’m also first aid and CPR trained, so if it’s a medical emergency I can start that right then and there and also have fire and medics rolling to that medical emergency.”
These situations are known to be infrequent but when in dire need, these quick responses can be life-saving. The first-response training that officers receive is especially useful in these emergency situations.
However, we have seen examples of the negligence of police officers in such events. During the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018, SRO Scot Peterson failed to confront the shooter, an action that could have saved the lives of 17 students and faculty. That particular SRO was terminated but eventually reinstated. There have been occurrences, however, when SROs have been able to successfully diffuse student-threatening situations, like in May of 2018 when SRO Mark Dallas injured a school shooter and apprehended him. But with the example of such an egregious event like the Parkland shooting, we cannot ensure that an SRO will prevent such a violent atrocity. Moreover, even if they were an effective method of ensuring safety on campus, they are not worth the financial cost of having them enforce policy that does not directly protect students.
The very funds that are allocated to keep SROs on campus could be used to fix ventilation systems on parts of the campus, provide wifi for low-income students, provide teaching supplies, increase teacher salaries, improve counseling, and so many other facilities throughout the district. Students especially have voiced their concerns on the lack of funding for educational services and other student support initiatives, such as providing wifi hotspots, especially with how students of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
“You can see it completely confirmed by COVID-19 that it impacts students of color more than white students so that money could be used to give wifi or wifi hotspots to students who need it so we can continue having quality distance learning from home, and it can also be used to invest in more counselors and teachers of color,” rising senior Alexia Ambriz said.
Furthermore, according to the ACLU, schools with more counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists “see improved attendance rates, better academic achievement, and higher graduation rates as well as lower rates of suspension, expulsion, and other disciplinary incidents.” These facilities are often underfunded in many school districts, which leads to an increase in mental health ailments for students and overburdens faculty that have to support them.
“Having more of those mental health services and counselors that could kind of root out these issues, and prevent things from boiling over before they get into a level that a police officer is actually needed in school,” History teacher Pablo Aguilera said.
If our community reallocates funds to these programs rather than to SRO services, we may see similar results.
One possible method of having an immediate police response while simultaneously having cops off-campus could be through designating police officers from the Redwood City police department to act as liaisons to the school.
“What some districts have is when you call the police department, you can have the police department designate two or so officers that are the liaison with the school in which they’re the ones that will report to the school or they’re the ones that will have that relationship,” Aguilera said.
With this composition, cops would not be on campus throughout the day like an SRO, but if an emergency were to occur, our school would have priority attention from the officers that we would designate.
“So you can still develop that community but the officer can still be somewhat involved and you develop community and develop a history, but you can do that without spending the extra money and then with that money, instead, it should be used to work on preventing issues coming out of the school,” Aguilera said.
Though this solution will reduce response times, it will allow greater funds to be reallocated to other programs while keeping student safety prioritized by our local police department.
As a community, we need to understand that the institutions that enlighten and educate should always take priority.