Tempe Union Governing Board

 The Tempe Union High School District Governing Board on Nov. 17 unanimously walked back its resolution to remove school resource officers from all campuses by the time the next school year began.

Confronted by opposition from the district’s six high school principals, at least five former board members, the Tempe Police Department and numerous parents, students and others, the board decided to spend the next year studying the divisive issue that included something that had not been done prior to the board’s Oct. 13 vote: survey students, teachers, parents, and community members; study actual data; and examine current and model school safety plans.

The goal of a committee undertaking that study will be to recommend model safety plans and policies as well as “explore grant funded options for any additional partnerships or positions that would add to the physical and psychological safety of our students.”

The resolution charges the committee with “recommending various models of safety plans ranging from those that include the district’s current usage of SROs with modifications based on Ad Hoc Committee input to plans that do not include our current usage of SROs.:

It also will be asked to revise “TUHSD safety policies/plans with strategies for enhancing student learning, safety, and well-being through additional social/emotional supports, mental and behavioral health services, restorative practices, other wraparound supports to meet students’ developmental needs, and community-level accountability structures.”

It also was disclosed during the meeting that the district is still trying to work out a plan for trained SROs at Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools for the current year, and likely 2022-23, instead of using untrained officers who are assigned on a random basis in what Superintendent Dr. Kevin J. Mendivil last month called a “revolving door” approach.

To arrive at the resolution, the board spent four grueling hours parsing words and phrases in a proposed resolution, even debating whether the panel that will study the issue should be called a “committee” or a task force.”

Although the resolution contains no specific timeline for a decision, district spokeswoman Megan Sterling told AFN, “Yes, bottom line, it would be unlikely that there are changes regarding SROs until the 23/24 school year. And yes, SROs are likely to return to DV and MP soon.”

Several board members during the session voiced frustration and even exasperation that has been rarely – if ever – heard during meetings the last five years.

“If I’m a board member and I’m getting confused, I’m pretty sure other people are,” board member Berdetta Hodge said at one point.

Hodge also argued that any data gathering must be limited to interactions between SROs and Tempe Union students rather than other districts, some of whom have cut the use of SROs.

“We do need to make sure we understand that we’re looking at the Tempe Union community, not what’s happening outside the state…Phoenix Union or Mesa,” she said. “We have to think about what’s happening in our district.”

The Oct. 13 resolution was approved in a 3-2 vote with Hodge and Andres Barraza voting against it because, they maintained, not enough study had been done. It was supported by its original proponent, board President Brian Garcia, as well as new members Armando Montero and Sarah James. 

The first terms of both Garcia and Barraza end December 2022 so they will have to run next year if they decide to seek a second term.

At one point, James contended the board never got rid of SROs. 

“I don’t want our principals to think that we would ever throw them under the bus,” James said, “and the fact that we’ve heard tonight, ‘Oh, you all got rid of SROs.’ No, we didn’t.”

Similarly, Garcia said the board was trying to address “a level of misinformation” about the Oct. 13 resolution, though he did not elaborate.

The Oct. 13 resolution specifically directed the administration to developer “a process to implement revised school safety plans without the current usage of SROs at each school by August 2022.”

Prior to discussing the new resolution, the board heard from several parents, students and others. Speakers both criticized SROs and pleaded for their retention, reflecting the continuing divide in the community over the board’s actions – which originated in June 2020 during the height of nationwide protests against police brutality that spilled over into the propriety of having uniformed armed police officers on school campuses.

Former board member Sandra Lowe said she was speaking on behalf of at least five other former board members when cast the decision to rid campuses of SROs as “quickly made without using relevant data and it lacked input from extremely knowledgeable invested stakeholders.

“You have alienated and disrespected so many in our schools and your community, but most important, you took away a critical partner in the support of students,” Lowe said.

But Terry Becker thanked the board “for committing to explore ways to provide school safety on our campuses that do not involve law enforcement.”

Two men who identified themselves as representing the Party for Socialism and Liberation decried the presence of uniformed officers on campus.

“Police never once helped me or made me feel safe as a kid here,” said Also Soberon, stating:

“Police presence means condemning students, particularly Black and Latino students, to the well-documented school-to-prison pipeline in Arizona.”

“If you support SROs in our schools,” Soberon said, “you are violating the charged with which you are entrusted. We do not need the stain on our conscience. So please do the right thing and keep our children safe. Get police out of our schools.”

Cooper Fester, another Party for Socialism and Liberation member, said, “The role of the police in this society is the role of punishers. Since their inception, SROs have used excessive force on children. They’ve been known to arrest children for things like tardiness, grades and cursing – things I do every day.”

But Mountain Pointe student Hudson Ellis disagreed, telling the board, “First of all, I want to say I’ve been tardy multiple times and have not been arrested. We need SROs in our schools. We need someone there to protect us. We need someone there to teach us.”

And Tonya Drew noted the irony of the board having armed police officers outside its meeting room, stating that Barazza told her they are there “to keep everyone safe.”

“Why not in our schools?” Drew asked.

Two citizens, businessman Charles Siler and Daniel Lopez, opposed any revision of the board’s original resolution and giving police departments any role in formulating future safety plans.

“I would love to see new ideas, new ways to address problems and mitigate the harm that’s done by an active armed police presence on campus,” Siler said. “That’s also why I’m opposed to the resolution reimagining school safety, as its presently written because it creates space for the police to participate in that process.”

Lopez, a teacher, said there is a perception that “police officers kind of simultaneously are overpaid role models who just hang out and build relationships with kids and also viewed as action heroes who can stop a mass shooter at the drop of a pin. In reality, they do neither.”

“Why are cops consistently held to such low or non-existent standards? Why are they exempt from the incredibly high standards our teachers and educational staff hold ourselves to? I ask you to reject this coddling of privilege overpaid, violent cops, instead stick to your promise of removing cops and schools as soon as reasonably possible.”

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(1) comment

PaulAhwatukee

Garcia looks like a pedo. He should resign and renew his Truvada prescriptions.

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