The board formally made this commitment on Monday, when the members present accepted the recommendation of its School Security Task Force.
The task force ended up not agreeing with a call from some in the community to eliminate school-based police officers, aka school resource officers [SROs], in the short term, a demand that grew out of last summers Black Lives Matters protests.
“I understand that some folks will be disappointed. The recommendation was that we are working towards a point when school resource officers will not be necessary and that there will be a different relationship moving forward,” said Board of Education member Matthew Wilcox.
The six voting members and one student representative present all voted in favor of the recommendation. Board member Darnell Goldson was absent, as was student representative Lihame Arouna. (The two student representatives tend to switch off who attends board meetings.)
Arouna sparked the creation of the committee after high school students led some of the BLM protests and demanded that New Haven Public Schools eliminate the positions of SROs, who work for the New Haven Police Department and have the power to arrest students. Arouna brought that demand to the school board.
Arouna stayed involved in the School Security Taskforce and was part of a contingent of two pushing for an immediate end to the SRO presence in schools.
For the sake of moving forward, she now supports all but one of the final recommendations of the committee. She explained her reasoning at the second to last Board of Education meeting, when members of the task force presented their report (starts on p. 20 of this document).
“I think the presence of SROs continues the school-to-prison pipeline. Many students feel criminalized and over-monitored. These are feelings in New Haven,” Arouna emphasized. “I am not in favor of continuing SROs. I do support the committee’s recommendations as a way of phasing out the SRO program.”
She formally opposed just one of the 14 recommendations—making SRO mentorship of specific students more official. She has said multiple times that students shouldn’t need to get to know officers, in opposition to the tenets of community policing that first put cops in schools.
Other committee members recommended holding onto SROs for a little longer. They drew on studies, relatively low arrest rates, school forums and surveys of students and teachers to make that recommendation. While an active contingent of students and parents are pushing for the removal of SROs, most said they like having SROs in buildings.
“It is the board’s responsibility to guard the socio-emotional and academic wellbeing of our students. Given the circumstances, we can’t do that unless we also take care of their physical safety,” said task force Chair Carlos Torre.
As long as there are still safety threats involving students, the police officer who responds should know the students and know the context of the school, the committee decided.
To get to a point without student threats, the district should secure funding for social workers, school psychologists, trauma counselors and other professionals focused on student mental wellness. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy has already proposed a bill that would help with this goal.
“We recommend that you urgently look into and increase the number of people we really need in schools—psychologists, social workers, counselors, and support personnel,” Torre said.
Other recommendations attempt to address students feeling intimidated by the presence of officers. Officers should park behind schools with teachers unless in cases of an emergency. The district should find an alternative to police uniforms that would look friendlier to students.
The task force also suggested better defining and formalizing the role of SROs. The current memorandum of understanding between the New Haven Police Department and New Haven Public Schools is outdated and defunct, so the two groups need to work out a new one. SROs should be required to only respond in cases of emergencies, as clearly defined.
When the Board of Education unanimously approved the task force’s recommendations on Monday, board member Tamiko Jackson-McArthur asked Superintendent Iline Tracey for a timeline and plan for implementing the recommendations. As the chair of the board’s Governance Committee, Jackson-McArthur shepherded the task force recommendations to board approval.
School administrators have already gotten a head start on the first recommendation. New Haven Public Schools is requesting money for three counselors, three social workers and three psychologists as part of the second round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II). This coronavirus relief aid covers social emotional wellness, along with academic catch-up and other categories.
The state has to approve New Haven’s application for ESSER II dollars. After that, the grant will pay for the new hires until June 2023.