Students call for more transparency around school resource officers
In most Connecticut school systems, you’ll find school resource officers. But on Wednesday, students and racial justice groups called for more rules – and more transparency – around how police operate in schools.
"Back in 2019, a group of out-of-district police officers were buzzed into New London High School, where they pulled five kids out of class – without informing their parents -- and took their mug shots,” said Andrea Kitchen Walker, a student organizer with the group Hearing Youth Voices.
A new bill would require school districts to post "the role and responsibility of school resource officers" on the Internet, as well as examine resource officers’ restraint and arrest policies.
"This is an issue,” said Nicole Broadus, another organizer with Hearing Youth Voices. “That information is important and that information should be accessible."
SROs are common in Connecticut. According to the Office of Legislative Research, 68% of school systems use police or outside security officers, including Norwalk, Bridgeport and Westport. A survey from the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents found that in 10% of districts school security is armed.
Some parents believe police make schools safer.
"It's a lot of things going on in school and stuff like that, you know, in the street,” said Agata Cappello, of Norwalk. “It's good to have security.”
But a report from Connecticut Voices for Children found, in schools with SROs, students were twice as likely to be referred to law enforcement – and Black students were 17 times more likely to get arrested.
School leaders support taking a fresh look at officers’ role in schools.
"The data speaks for itself,” said Fran Rabinowitz, CAPSS’ executive director.
Previous efforts to completely abolish police in schools have failed. This year, state Sen. Gary Winfield (D-New Haven) said he supports a compromise – for now.
“Rather than spend the session spinning our wheels, let’s make some progress,” he said.
"I like the idea of not outlawing the SROs. I like the idea of looking at it almost with a scalpel,” she said. "The SRO was an integral part of our schools and they were very much liked by our students and the families.”
One Republican lawmaker, who is also a Stonington police officer, took offense to the implication that school resource officers are harmful.
“It is personally hurtful, when I consider who I am and how hard I work for the betterment of all our kids, to see a colleague’s participation in a message that insinuates that my work with children is to their detriment due to my full-time profession,” said state Rep. Greg Howard (R-Stonington).
Both sides do agree on one thing: schools need more counselors and psychologists. State lawmakers took steps to address the shortage last year, and many want to go even further this year.