TEMPE, Ariz. – Board members of the Tempe Union High School District discussed abolishing school resource officers (SROs) on Wednesday as some questioned their necessity.
The board heard from former law enforcement, students and parents during public comment – all to decide the vote on yes or no on school resource officers.
In a resolution prepared for Wednesday’s meeting, the board says it recognizes there are “alternative school safety plans without the current usage of SROs” to keep students and staff safe while building positive community relationships and ensure a safe learning environment.
To phase out school resource officers, the superintendent will have to develop a timeline and budget considerations to implement “equitable discipline practices.”
The goal would be to implement revised school safety plans without SROs at all six schools by August 2022.
Phoenix Union High School District decided to remove school resource officers last year.
“Phoenix Union will use off-duty officers, as and when needed, to assist with required law enforcement notifications, campus and community safety needs, and other mandatory reporting issues. Officers will be assigned to the district, not to schools,” read a portion of a statement by Phoenix Union High School District at the time of the decision.
Tempe Union High School District board members on Oct. 13, 2021
‘It makes no sense,’ retired officer says
Retired Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff says he feels law enforcement is under attack nationally, and wants to know more about the resolution.
“I can tell you from having read that document from school administrators and board members, I’d give them an F. It’s a failing document, it makes no sense,” Ryff says.
The district also considers research by the U.S. Department of Education, saying black students in the district are three times more likely to be referred to law enforcement than white students. The board says it’s important for stakeholders across the community to establish a system to reduce disproportionality in student discipline.
Desert Vista High School Senior Rebeca Salas says funds should be allocated to mental health resources like counselors and psychologists – not police.
“We believe that having those people there instead of an SRO will be greatly beneficial to our students because that support for mental health will be there and our safety is still secured with our security officers,” Salas explained.
A statement from the Tempe Officers Association President Rob Ferraro reads, in part, “While the national conversation about school resource officers continues, the SROs we represent have worked hard to be an asset for the communities in which they work, building useful relationships throughout the school district and the education community.”
Ferraro says regardless of the board’s decision, officers will advance community relations and do everything they can to keep students and teachers safe.
Mackenzie White teaches criminal justice at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe and her dad is a retired Gilbert Police officer. She says she wants SROs on her campus.
“Removing our SRO would be very difficult for my classroom and to have that person, to have that life experience, and being the officer in uniform on campus, it is so vital for the students to see that,” she said.
However, students like Rebeca Salas say it’s time for a change.
“For me personally and these student leaders out here, we just believe that SROs are really not something that we believe should be in school,” she said.
The six schools in the district include Corona del Sol High School, Desert Vista High School, Marcos de Niza High School, McClintock High School, Mountain Pointe High School and Tempe High School.
All the principals in the district told the board to not abolish SROs.
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