Speakers who addressed the Tempe Union Governing Board about SROs included, from left, Mountain Pointe student Hudson Ellis, graduate student Matt Crisler, Sherry Kettner, Corona student Liam Halton, student Isabelle Jacot and Kelsey Haake. Of the above, only Crisler lauded the abolition of SROs. (YouTube)

Mystery surrounds the Tempe Union Governing Board’s announcement that it may revisit its resolution to abolish school resource officers at the same time that controversy over the resolution continues to roil the community.

Three students, a grandmother and at least two mothers district ripped the decision in appearances before the board at its Nov. 3 meeting while a graduate student and a mother spoke in favor of it.

Meanwhile, three former board members and other community leaders signed an open letter asking the board to reconsider the decision. 

And scores of people took to social media to debate the board’s resolution, which aims to abolish SROs at all six high schools before the next school year.

 The board agenda said, “At the November 17 meeting or at an earlier date and time, Governing Board members will discuss and consider for approval a Resolution to clarify, revise or supersede the Resolution that was approved at the October 13 meeting.”

Board President Brian Garcia, who first opposed SROs in June 2020, didn’t do much to clarify that agenda item.

The resolution was the focus of an emergency executive session Oct. 25. District officials and board members are forbidden by law from discussing what goes on in such closed-door sessions.

All that Garcia said at last week’s meeting was that the board intended “to help clarify key points in” the resolution and “provide clarity because of the call for that clarity and to kind of address also elements of misinformation.”

Asked later what “misinformation” Garcia was referring to, district spokeswoman Megan Sterling replied, “No comment.”

Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil, who has not appeared to be enthusiastic about the abolition of SROs during past meetings when the subject has come up, also said the board intends “to provide clarification.”

Stating that clarification would be coming “because we have listened,” he also addressed the board and said, “You have listened to the community, to our teachers and so I I think that that needs to be known.

“It may not feel like that right now out there, but you have five board members that are listening. And so, I appreciate that,” Mendivil said.

The board voted 3-2 last month to abolish SROs with board members Berdetta Hodge and Andres Barraza casting surprise “no” votes.

While they had been supportive of the move to abolish uniformed officers on campus in the past, both Hodge and Barraza were critical of the way the resolution had been handled. Hodge wanted a formal survey of staff, students, parents while Barraza complained of havign no input in it.

Garcia and board members Armando Montero and Sarah James say SROs are an intimidating presence on campus, particularly for students of color.

Two speakers who addressed the board echoed that feeling, saying SROs tended to “target” students of color and subject them to harsher disciplinary action.

But among the critics was Mountain Pointe student Hudson Ellis, who asked board members if they even knew “how long it takes for a police officer to arrive on campus” if a shooting were to occur.

Hudson indirectly referred to the board's other vote Oct. 13 – with Barraza and Hodge opposing and Garcia abstaining – that deprived Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools of having trained SROs on campus. Instead, they are getting available officers assigned on a day to day basis that Mendivil called "a revolving door."

Hudson said SROs understand and know how to deal with special education students while officers “off the street” lack the training to do so. He also asserted that the eight or nine Desert Vista students who spoke in favor Oct. 13 of abolishing SROs “don’t portray the entire Tempe Union School District.”

“There may be some students that don’t agree with police officers,” Hudson said, “but there’s also some students that don’t like teachers. Are we going to get rid of the teachers?”

Corona del Sol student Liam Halton also criticized the board, stating, “students shouldn’t have to choose between SROs or mental health experts.”

“The people who voted on this issue will face second-hand effects and consequences,” Liam said. “If someone were to show up with a lethal weapon while an SRO wasn’t present, students and administration who didn’t get much of a say in this will face the direct effects…. I have a sister coming in next year and I’m nervous and worried about our safety.”

Sherry Kettner, whose granddaughter attends Desert Vista High, said the decision indicated that “the voices of the few have overridden the voices of many.”

She noted opposition by all six high school, principals, Tempe Police and other community leaders while supporting it were groups that identified with socialism. 

"I don't understand how we can take the argument of somebody from an organization that represents socialism over and above so many qualified professions that have our children's well-being in mind," Kettner said. 

But graduate student Matthew Crisler applauded the board’s decision and encouraged it to look “at the entire apparatus of policing and exploitation that targets youth. 

“In that vein, we should stop using only the language of vulnerable youth or vulnerable students and start talking about targeted students – students who are targeted by truancy laws, state of abandonment, criminal codes. high-stakes testing, gentrification and predatory employers.”     

Danielle Pollett, a Mountain Pointe mother, said she doubted many teachers responded to a poll on the issue and urged  a series of roundtables at campuses to give "students an opportunity to brainstorm what physical and emotional safety should like in their near future."

But parent Kelsey Haake, who identified herself as a member of an Alaskan Indigenous tribe, ripped the board's decision, calling it “abysmal.”

“I truly believe that this was a bad resolution and I’m scared for my children – my native children that are going to be going through the Tempe Union School District without the SROs that are here,” Haake said. 

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