Columbus City Schools to reevaluate use of SROs
Columbus City Schools will hold off negotiating a new contract to deploy school resource officers in its buildings following demands from some students, alumni and families that the district end its relationship with the Columbus Division of Police.
The district's contract with the division expires June 30.
Instead, at a meeting on that date, the district will announce members of a working group who will evaluate its overall approach to safety and security, Jennifer Adair, Columbus Board of Education president, said June 16. The goal is for employees, families and students to participate, she said.
"We think it is a perfect time to pause," Adair said. "We want to have meaningful dialogue to ensure that any system that is in our buildings not only protects our students, staff and community, but is also done in an equitable and fair way."
Those interested in participating should email Adair at email@example.com.
The decision to have a discussion about school security follows a protest June 8 outside Adair's home in northeast Columbus. Organizers amassed a letter of 2,500 people who supported removing police from Columbus schools and delivered the letter to board members.
Those supporting removal of police contend the officers do more harm than good, especially when they interact with African American students. They want to see funds typically allocated for police instead be used to employ school nurses, counselors and social workers who are specifically trained to address challenges students face and de-escalate conflict.
"We're continuing to pass along that narrative that black and brown children and low-income communities need intimidation and fear to function," district parent Raquelle Walker said of police in schools. "That's not going to build a stronger relationship with police."
Nationwide protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd after his neck was pressed under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer have spurred similar demands of other schools throughout the country. Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, schools already have made moves.
In the 2015-16 school year, black students comprised 15% of the nationwide school population but accounted for 31% of arrests, according to federal data.
About 61% of the approximately 50,000 students enrolled in Columbus City Schools are black or multiracial, but they accounted for 82% of expulsions, 77% of out-of-school suspensions and 72% of in-school suspensions, according to the data. A breakdown of arrests and referrals to law enforcement by race wasn't listed.
At the June 16 meeting, eight speakers, including the organizers of the protest, again spoke out against police in Columbus schools.
South High School student Maryam Muhammed described a 2017 experience in which she said a police officer put her into a choke hold and handcuffed her as a seventh-grader. The incident occurred after a conflict in the cafeteria for which she was asked to leave the building, she said.
As she was going back to the cafeteria to collect her possessions, she saw a school administrator had brought a police officer.
"My first instinct was to run," she said.
The officer pursued her and became violent when he caught up with her, she said.
Board member Tina Pierce thanked Muhammed for coming forward.
"As a parent, I felt that. That's very real," Pierce said. "We need to feel that pain. We need to know that's happening in our schools."
Craig Stone, deputy director of the Columbus Department of Public Safety, emailed The Columbus Dispatch a statement June 17.
"We understand the challenges the school board is currently battling because of COVID-19 and the uncertainties of the next school year, so a reevaluation of the contract with CPD is not unexpected," it read. "We are listening to the concerns of the school board, parents and teachers specifically about police officers in schools and are open to discussing how they want to proceed."
In the 2019-20 school year, Columbus City Schools paid $1.2 million to employ 19 armed officers, who are stationed in high school buildings. Some are combined with middle schools.
The district also spent nearly $6 million to employ 84 of its own unarmed security officers in many buildings, spokesman Scott Wortman said.
About 46% of public schools in the country use school resource officers, who are police officers with the authority to make arrests, according to a report on the 2017-18 school year from the National Center for Education Statistics.
In schools with 1,000 or more students, 79% had at least one officer.
Also at the June 16 meeting, board members unanimously approved a resolution declaring racism "a crisis in public education."
"We're committed to reviewing our policies and practices through a racial and educational equity lens," the board's resolution reads.