Education and Racial Justice

Statement on School Resource Officers (SROs)

in Jefferson County Public Schools

We all want school to be a safe place for every student and every staff member.

We all want the school climate to foster a sense of belonging for all students.

Unfortunately, for many of our students of color and students living in poverty, using SROs to attempt to create that safe place may actually decrease their sense of belonging and of safety. A key goal of Federal programs funding SRO programs is to improve relations between police and youth. That in itself attests to the fact that there is a lack of trust of police already present in minority and low-income populations. The ACLU “Bullies in Blue” report (2017) found that, for many young people, school— “the first opportunity most citizens have to experience the power of government”—has increasingly come to resemble the criminal justice system.

Data from JCPS reinforces this experience-based distrust. SROs in JCPS participated in resolving behavior incidents involving black students at a rate 3.8 times greater than with white students. That disparity resulted in arrest rates for black students 4.9 times higher than for white students (SY16-17 KDE data).

There are good reasons to rely on properly-trained teachers, administrators and school mental health personnel. By contract, Board policy (09.2212) and law, JCPS has no real control of SROs who work for our city and county government police departments. Once an officer makes a determination that law enforcement action is necessary, JCPS staff cannot stop—or, after the fact, discipline --an SRO who improperly handles a student. They cannot stop an SRO from arresting a student or calling in additional officers (who probably are not trained at all for school environments) in the course of law enforcement. This problem of accountability becomes particularly acute when the student’s behavior may be a manifestation of a disability addressed in an Individual Education Plan.

There are times when law enforcement presence may be useful in JCPS. For example. there were 1142 incidents in SY16-17 of assault in the first degree (10), weapons possession (93), and possession or use of drugs (922) and alcohol (117). Even in these cases, though, SROs were involved in resolution of only 385 incidents. That means that two thirds of these higher-level incidents were handled by teachers, administrators, school counsellors and mental health professionals.

Let’s refocus on prevention and de-escalation by our staff and the community:

Violence—in our community and in our schools—must be seen as a public health issue. Our entire community needs to approach it through that lens. Children need the experience of safe neighborhoods in order to help them avoid developing fight-or-flight behaviors that then appear at school. We need to be asking “What has happened to this child?”, not “What’s wrong with this child?”. Restorative Practice in our schools and community is an example of an important investment in this direction.

We support expanded funding for wrap-around services—including more trained mental health professionals-- to intervene with students living with trauma and poverty at home and n their neighborhoods. We need more resources to provide the services, the trauma-informed care, and other support that children need to be able to focus on learning. These resources may be outside grants and programs like Promise Louisville, but they ultimately rest, at least in part, within expanded JCPS budgets. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the revenues and budgets have been shrinking.

Teachers need training before and throughout their career in more than just pedagogy. Teachers want to teach their students, not spend their time disciplining kids. However, most schools of teacher education do not yet adequately prepare new teachers for the challenges of urban school districts, including helping students learn while the student deals with daily impacts from poverty, discrimination, and neighborhood violence in their life. Teachers often come to the profession without adequate training in cultural competency and the socio-emotional skills necessary to build relationships with these students. We support additional investment for those kinds of training as well as for district wide, expanded and ongoing professional development for all teachers in areas such as restorative practices, de-escalation, bias management, and Safe Crisis Management.

JCPS must increase its investments immediately in creating a school climate of belonging and support for students living with poverty, trauma, and discrimination. We must provide the budgets to increase the numbers of in-house staff trained for appropriate and restorative responses. SROs should then be phased out and their budgets shifted to more preventive and productive paths.

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