“Defund the police” evolves to criticism of having school resource officers; specifically, five residents lobby ABSS not to increase number
Alamance-Burlington school board members heard from five Alamance County residents last week, urging them to reject a staff recommendation to hire 17 additional school resource officers (SROs) during the 2021-22 fiscal year that begins July 1.
The five local residents submitted written public comments that were read into the record during a public hearing last week on the proposed county budget request for ABSS.
The latest calls to reduce or eliminate funding for SROs mirror similar concerns that school board members fielded in June 2020, amid nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota and a subsequent push to “defund the police” that has swept much of the country.
School board members acknowledged concerns about increasing the presence of law enforcement in ABSS schools but were united in their support for funding SROs, voting later during the same meeting last June to approve approximately $1.4 million in annual SRO contracts with the Alamance County sheriff’s department and six municipal police departments (see accompanying chart).
For the 2021-22 fiscal year, the school system’s administration is recommending that school board members ask Alamance County’s commissioners for $1.1 million, as part of a proposed $50 million county budget request, to hire 17 additional full-time SROs who would be assigned to elementary schools. ABSS finance director Jeremy Teetor told school board members two weeks ago that ABSS could apply for a state grant (which he said is capped at a maximum of $566,661) to offset part of the cost, but added that those funds wouldn’t be disbursed until this fall, after the fiscal year has started.
The proposed $50 million county budget request for ABSS for the 2021-22 fiscal year would represent a $4.7 million (10.5 percent) increase over the county’s funding level for the current fiscal year. School board members are scheduled to discuss the proposed budget request for ABSS at their work session next Tuesday afternoon and their regular monthly meeting on February 22.
The school system’s budget for the current and previous fiscal years also included funds for hiring additional SROs. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, approximately $110,000 in county funding was designated for hiring two additional SROs: one who would rotate between Alexander Wilson and E.M. Holt Elementary schools; and a second SRO would provide additional support at the high schools in Burlington, according to the finance director.
For the previous 2019-20 fiscal year, school board members agreed to redirect $80,000 in existing state funds within the budget to hire two SROs to rotate between the four most geographically-isolated elementary schools: A.O., Pleasant Grove, B. Everett Jordan, and Sylvan Elementary schools.
ABSS would have a total of 39 full-time SROs if school board members agree to ask the county to fund 17 additional ones, Teetor confirmed for The Alamance News. SROs would no longer be shared by more than one school, he told the newspaper last, adding that there has always been at least one full-time SRO assigned to each of the middle and high schools. “[We] started easing them in at [the] elementary level with a split between two schools due to funding constraints,” Teetor elaborated.
‘Fragility of existing support services has come to light during this pandemic’
Jordan Doss of 40 Slate Court in Gibsonville told school board members last week that he finds the recommendation to seek additional funding for SROs misguided. “Our students do not need policing,” Doss wrote in the comments he submitted for the school board’s public hearing on the proposed county budget request for ABSS. “They need consistent and full access to more counselors, psychologists, and nurses. If one of the arguments for the return to school buildings is concern for students’ mental and mental health, why would we not [be] taking this opportunity to provide and implement services to this end?”
Doss said he believes that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has heightened awareness of the need for more mental health support services for students and staff, based on copies of each of the written public comments that were submitted for the public hearing and furnished to the newspaper by ABSS.
Request for 17 SROs ‘utterly ridiculous’
Donna Vanhook of Caswell Street in Burlington told school board members during their public hearing that, as a former law enforcement officer and as a pastor, she sees no need for 17 additional SROs in ABSS elementary schools “when the cradle to prison pipeline is both traumatic and possibly life-threatening for black students.
“the toxicity of countywide policing of black communities has been demonstrated on numerous occasions in recent years.”
–donna vanhook, Burlington
“Additionally, the toxicity of countywide policing of black communities has been demonstrated on numerous occasions in recent years,” Vanhook explained in the public comments she submitted for the budget public hearing.
Vanhook pointed to two local news stories that ran last year and suggested that, throughout the pandemic, law enforcement have been “reportedly doing surveillance freely in the homes of young people” and had been called “more than once for toy guns seen in the homes of young ABSS students while they attended class online, endangering their lives and traumatizing the families.”
Calling the request to fund 17 additional SROs “utterly ridiculous,” Vanhook insisted that, rather than “over-policing,” students need more support from school nurses and social workers to cope with “historical trauma,” which she said contributes to inequities in education and adverse childhood trauma for black students.
What measurable goals and outcomes does SRO program have?
Dayson Pasión, a former Graham Middle School teacher who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board last fall, reiterated some of the same concerns that he had expressed during the board’s meeting in June 2020. He urged school board members to consider what specific measurable outcomes would be used to determine whether the SRO program is successful and how it affects outcomes for students.
“What specific benchmarks and outcomes are we looking for when implementing our SRO program?. . . Where is the demonstrated need [for hiring 17 additional SROs for elementary schools]? While I believe the budget consideration may be well-intentioned, I do not think we have truly examined the impact that this could have on our school communities.”
– Dayson Pasión, former GMS teacher/unsuccessful school board candidate
“[Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson] and the board have made it clearly evident that student outcomes are at the heart of everything we do in the district,” wrote Pasión, who lives at 706 West Front Street in Burlington and works as a middle school equity specialist for Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools. “So again, what specific benchmarks and outcomes are we looking for when implementing our SRO program? Has the superintendent’s committee [on] Diversity, Equity, and Opportunity had a chance to evaluate and make recommendations on this specific budget consideration, or any of the budget considerations?
Pasión urged school board members to ask “where is the demonstrated need” for hiring 17 additional SROs to serve the elementary schools, and how students feel about having an SRO at their schools. “While I believe the budget consideration may be well-intentioned, I do not think we have truly examined the impact that this could have on our school communities,” Pasión wrote.
Tanya Kline of 1121 Brookview Drive in Elon, who said she has two children in ABSS schools, told school board members that even if part of the cost is offset by grant money, “this is a request for hundreds of thousands of dollars for a program that does not have measurable outcomes.”
“SRO programs in general have not proven to be effective at the state or national level. . .I am asking that you please research the issue of policing in schools and choose not to increase the number of SROs in our schools.”
– Tanya Kline, Elon parent
Kline cited research indicating that “SRO programs in general have not proven to be effective at the state or national level,” pointing to studies published by a nonprofit in Maryland, Child Trends, that purportedly demonstrate racial disparities in school policing and alternatives to SRO programs that have been shown to improve school safety.
“I am asking that you please research the issue of policing in schools and choose not to increase the number of SROs in our schools,” Kline wrote in the comments she submitted for the public hearing on the proposed county budget request for ABSS.
School board members urged to consider ‘learning gaps’ in setting funding priorities
“I would ask where the push to expand this program coming from. Is this a request from the local building administrators to have full-time SROs, or from sources outside of our schools?”
– Medora BurkeScoll, EasterN HIGH SCHOOL science teacher
Medora BurkeScoll of 3673 Mebane-Rogers Road in Mebane, who teaches science at Eastern High School, said that funds designated for hiring 17 additional SROs would cover the salaries for more than 13 teacher assistants, whom she suggested should take priority.
“Please don’t misunderstand me,” BurkeScoll wrote in the comments she submitted for the school board’s public hearing. “I think the role of the SRO has value. I have heard from the central office that all of the outlying elementary schools already have SROs due to the issue of response time in case of an emergency… I would ask where the push to expand this program coming from. Is this a request from the local building administrators to have full-time SROs, or from sources outside of our schools?”
BurkeScoll explained that at her daughters’ school, E.M. Yoder Elementary School, one T.A., who has worked with her daughter in reading, is assigned to cover six classes a day. “She [The T.A.] is one person trying to provide support for more than 120 students in a given day,” BurkeScoll wrote. “I couldn’t help but notice that this current budget does not allot money to start replacing the elementary T.A.s we lost during the last budget crisis. Please consider their value in helping fill many of the learning gaps [that] undoubtedly we will face after this year of virtual instruction.”
ABSS currently has 318 T.A.s, according to Teetor. The proposed budget for ABSS includes $2.6 million that would be used for 33 new “remediation” positions to provide additional assistance in 2021-22 for students who have fallen behind academically, to be funded through the $35 million in federal coronavirus relief aid that ABSS is estimated to receive. The proposed budget also includes a request to use $225,000 in fund balance to provide a nonrecurring 5 percent bonus for T.A.s until a permanent pay increase can be provided.