Tempe Union High School District Governing Board is scheduled at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, to discuss taking its first step toward abolishing school resource officers at all its campuses.
While a long-delayed measure to approve SROs at Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools also is on the agenda, another measure before the board indicates a long-range plan to eliminate them at all six district schools.
That goal is outlined in a resolution titled “addressing equitable discipline practices.”
“The board recognizes that there are alternative school safety plans without the current usage of SROs that will more effectively keep students and staff safe at all schools, build positive community relationships, ensure a safe learning environment for students and staff, and address students' and staff social and emotional needs,” the resolution states.
The resolution states that the board “recognizes and prioritizes that a fundamental purpose of schools is the creation of physical and psychological safety for students to advance their learning and growth, and a key component to creating this safety is positive relationships among students, families, and staff in school communities.”
It then spells out “the importance of engaging stakeholders across the TUHSD community, including students, teachers, families, administrators, and staff in establishing equitable practices, policies, and systems to reduce the disproportionality in student discipline and referrals to law enforcement (e.g., Black TUHSD students are 3 times more likely than their White peers to be referred to law enforcement, as reported to the U.S. Department of Education).”
It also states that “phasing-out of the current usage of SROs in the existing school safety plan must be accomplished in conjunction with development/refinement of new and revised school safety plans, revised intergovernmental agreements with law enforcement agencies, and opportunities for the community to learn about and provide input into such plans.”
Under the resolution, the district administration would be required to establish a budget and timeline for “the development and implementation of equitable discipline practices by developing a comprehensive plan to reduce disparities in school discipline, including the phasing-out of the current usage of SROs.”
It calls for an “inclusive, thoughtful, and timely process to learn and further develop community-based systems of safety for TUHSD students in every school that prioritizes their physical safety and social-emotional wellness, and learning” and calls for “benchmarks for the refinement of school safety plans without the current usage of SROs made after rigorous engagement with students, teachers, administrators, families, and community partners involved with school safety.”
Calling for an “ongoing evaluation of student safety (including both objective data on disciplinary, law enforcement involvement, and students' experience in schools,” the resolution states that the new safety plans would have to be ready for implementation when the 2022-23 school year begins.
It calls for the plans to be developed in a process “that reflects the diverse make-up of the TUHSD community which incorporates diverse voices of students, teachers, administrators, families, and community partners, specifically including people who are BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and individuals with disabilities.”
Stating the “community-based safety plans” would include “pursuing grants and additional funding aligned with best equitable practices,” the resolution also calls for “a board policy that guides schools on appropriate school-law enforcement engagement and the development of positive community-law enforcement relationships to start by August 2022.”
The initial move against SROs came last June when board member Brian Garcia, who is now board president, moved to block an administration proposal to allocate $400,000 for SROs at Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista.
The other four high school campuses have SROs as the result of a grant from the state Department of Education.
Garcia’s move came at the height of nationwide protests against policy brutality, which in many cities also have targeted the presence of uniformed officers on middle and high school campuses.
Echoing arguments that having officers on campus creates an intimidating and “militaristic” presence for many students of color, Garcia, joined by board members Andres Barraza and Berdetta Hodge, also voiced concern that SROs were more like to treat infractions by students of color more harshly than those committed by white students.
The move against SROs had the support of city Councilman Sal DiCiccio, a vocal supporter of police.
“A cop’s not a counselor,” he told AFN in an interview. “They can’t handle the students’ personal problems.”
“Kids will be problems, that’s the way it is. And the police are always going to be a step away in our community. If there’s a police action needed, they’ll be there on time.”
“I get the safety part of it, I understand that,” DiCiccio said. “I’m just looking at the police action itself. This is where the counselors and the school need to be able to handle their problems.”
Numerous emails and some speakers also supported the board’s position.
But there also were emails and speakers – including some students of color – decrying the move.
The principals of all Tempe Union high schools also signed a joined letter urging the board not to abolish SROs, noting the officers teach classes and stating they provide positive role models for students.