City Councilors Introduce a Series of Resolutions Calling on RIDE and the Providence Public School District to Rethink How We Use Student Resource Officers in City Schools

Feb 20, 2020 | 0 comments

Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Councilwoman KatherineKerwin (Ward 12) and Councilwoman Rachel Miller (Ward 13) tonight will introduce a resolution calling on the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to increase funding for social and emotional learning and support services. They are also requesting that RIDE eliminate school-based School Resource Officers (SROs) in the City’s school district.

In multiple studies that assess the overall effectiveness of counselors, social-emotional support and learning generate positive student outcomes. An increase in funding for social, emotional support and learning; the implementation of a comprehensive safety plan that includes protocols for emergency drills; and the creation of a School Safety, Culture, and Climate Team in each school provides a more engaged and supportive learning community where students can thrive. The two resolutions provide a framework for the role of SROs, an increase in social and emotional support and learning, elimination of school-based School Resource Officers and most importantly, an avenue for more robust community engagement with students, families, teachers and administrators in the planning and monitoring of school safety.

“I have met with our young people and student groups on multiple occasions over the past year to discuss student needs. I have also researched numerous educational structures and models around safety and climate in public schools. The need across the board is for additional school counselors and social-emotional support. Our students want to learn and thrive in an environment where they feel safe and where they can escape adverse experiences and encounters that happen outside of school walls,” stated Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune. “Students want to be able to walk through the building without fear of being arrested for nonviolent criminal infractions. Teachers and administrators see the need for social-emotional support in our schools. They want to work in an environment where they feel safe and can focus on educating and developing our young people. It is our responsibility to provide the tools and resources to create an environment where teachers can effectively teach, our students can learn and thrive, our administrators can focus on developing strategies and opportunities to move our schools forward and our families can feel supported and know that their children are safe. School Resource Officers can serve as excellent partners and resources but not as a first line of defense when addressing minor and common adolescent infractions, which could be better addressed by school administrators. Our schools are not prisons; they are environments for learning. It is time that we invest in proactive approaches that do not lead to violent incidents or create a pipeline to prison instead of a pathway to success. We need counselors, social-emotional support and learning in our schools, not armed officers.”

According to Leadership for Educational Equity, studies conducted by the University of Maryland in 2011, and a study included in 2015’s Adolescent Research Review, schools with an increased police presence saw higher rates of incidents than schools without. Other studies cited that a disproportionate amount of students of color and those with disabilities were referred to law enforcement for school-based incidents over their Caucasian counterparts.

Councilwoman Kat Kerwin stated, “I am so proud of the youth organizers of Providence who have spent hours of time advocating for a school district that no longer accepts the school to prison pipeline as the norm, but instead demands dignity. This is an excellent first step to ensuring that school resource officers are not the first line of defense for disciplinary issues as we begin to envision a district with more social and emotional support rather than armed school police officers.”

The resolution clearly lays out that it is the role of principals, teachers and other educators to administer school disciplinary action, and that any disciplinary action must support personal growth, as well as provide opportunities for the students and their peers to learn from any incident that might occur. Most importantly, any discipline administered needs to be done in a way that keeps students in their classrooms whenever possible. School-based incidents should not be punished by harsh or exclusionary measures or through the justice system.

With the takeover of the Providence Public Schools by RIDE late last year, changes to the current school culture are necessary to improve the overall holistic health of our system and the students within the care of the district. Organizations like the Providence Student Union (PSU) have galvanized students across the City to ensure that their “frustrations, demands, and dreams are heard.”  One of PSU’s main objectives is ending the racist and arbitrary disciplinary practices in and out of Providence’s city schools.

In addition to this resolution, Councilwoman LaFortune, along with her colleagues, Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Councilwoman Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12), and Councilman David A. Salvatore (Ward 14) will put forth a resolution requesting that the Providence Public School District and the Providence Police Department enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the role of SROs in Providence city schools.

The MOU would set forth guidelines to ensure that the School District and Police Department have a shared understanding of the role and responsibilities in maintaining school safety, improving the climate in city schools, and supporting the educational opportunities and outcomes for every student in the City’s care.

The primary role of the SROs is to improve school safety and the educational climate of schools; any disciplinary action should fall to the school’s principal and educators and must support personal growth and learning opportunities.

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