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Contradictions surround SRO use in District U-46
By Seth Hancock
Contradictions abounded as the Board of Education in School District U-46 discussed the future of School Resource Officers (SRO) in secondary schools at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 19 which was held electronically due to COVID-19 regulations.
With reservations, the board did vote 6-1, Veronica Noland voting no, for three contracts (Bartlett, South Elgin, Streamwood) on Nov. 2, the City of Elgin’s contract was not yet available for a vote, at a cost of $581,543 (3.1 percent increase from $563,961) for salaries and overtime/event security. Of note is the schools that would use the SROs remain mostly closed down due to the district’s reopening plan.
“We have wonderful SROs,” Noland said, but “I can’t have my vote be part of that systemic racism.”
Without one single incident or accusation of problems cited from U-46 SROs, the board suggested the district should look for other options because a handful of public comments were made and they want to follow the cues of partisan organizations, such as Black Lives Matter which admits its roots are Marxist. Public commenters explicitly called police racist and white supremacists while stating they target illegal immigrants.
“The power and the versatility of the Black Lives Matter movement is telling us what our black and brown communities feel about the police,” said board member Kate Thommes. She added there continues “to be more and more issues with the police culture in our country” and “our times are changing.”
Last year, while discussing the lobbying activities of the Illinois Association of School Boards, the U-46 board unanimously opposed rural and downstate school districts, who don’t have the resources for SROs, the option to arm staff or even seek other security options, U-46 citing that SROs are the only ones with the training that could be trusted in schools. Thommes said last year she was a “strong believer there will not be guns in U-46 schools… unless they’re with trained law enforcement.”
Now, the board says SROs are not sufficiently trained and it needs to micromanage them despite SROs not being employed by the district but by their police departments. Sue Kerr, the board’s president, did say: “Our job as a board is not to get into the weeds and tell them we’re going to do this, this and this.”
Board members, like Thommes along with Eva Porter and John Devereux, suggested SROs must get additional training including sensitivity, cultural, bias and special needs training from the district. Superintendent Tony Sanders said: “If we offer it, they will come. They always do.”
“I don’t think the training that they get is enough to meet the population or some of the situations that we have in our school, which is students,” said Porter despite the district saying last year that SROs must get a series of school-specific training mandated by the state. Board member Melissa Owens said they need to get “very specific training from us,” and “I think we’re all struggling with this.”
Porter claimed “SROs, or the police, is a person to fear” for some students and said their roles need to be defined despite the contracts always literally defining the “duties and responsibilities.”
Thommes suggested there be a moratorium placed on SROs’ abilities to arrest, except for “maybe” if a weapon is involved or staff member attacked.
“I don’t think you see a lot of arrests… for those minor things” already, Sanders said and added a moratorium would put “us at liability to be charged with obstruction of justice.”
Devereux suggested U-46 follow the Chicago Public Schools model which eliminated some SROs in favor of more social workers, counselors and hall monitors. Board member Donna Smith suggested having both, including SROs.
Noland cited and agreed with an openly racist quote by former board member Traci Ellis suggesting white students act out more than U-46’s data suggests. She said: “We somehow have the most well-behaved white students.”
“Only black and brown kids are seeming to be disciplined in our schools,” Noland claimed. Arrest data actually shows that total arrests have dropped from 343 in 2013-2014 to 29 in 2018-2019 with all racial categories having arrests. In fact, two categories had no arrests the last two years including Asians and American Indians, both of which would be students of color.
Arguably, discipline measures, have been artificially lowered due to “restorative practices,” in U-46.
“We have separated discipline,” Sanders said. “SROs cannot get involved in student discipline. They do not get involved in discipline. They do not investigate it. They have no role in any expulsions that come before the board.”
Noland told the board to not use language that suggests students should feel safe around police. The district and police departments obliged by removing language from the contract stating SROs “promote positive attitudes regarding the role of law enforcement in society, and inform students of their rights and responsibilities as lawful citizens.”
“We need to remove the threat (of police) from our lives,” Noland said adding that students shouldn’t have to bear the thought that police might be there to help.
Noland suggested the board only listen to certain voices when Kerr suggested the community (staff, students, general public, etc.) be surveyed.
“We ask our schools what do they want,” Kerr said. “I mean it could be some of our schools say, ‘we’d rather have another counselor.’”
Noland said the public can’t be trusted because “if the majority of your students are not students of color, what do you think your outcome will be.”
Olivia Howell, the board’s student advisor, said she’s done a small survey of students. She said: “Some students say they wouldn’t feel safe at school without one, and some students say they wouldn’t feel safe with them there.”