As part of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools' ongoing review of school safety and security, the School Safety Task Force discussed options concerning the future of the school resource officer program at Thursday's CHCCS Board of Education meeting.
SROs are law enforcement officers placed in schools with the goal of creating and maintaining safe, secure and orderly learning environments for students, teachers and staff.
The task force's findings have not been finalized yet, but options include adding to or replacing the current SRO program in the district.
Rodney Trice, CHCCS chief equity and engagement officer, presented past and current actions of the task force to provide the board and community members a holistic look at the issue.
The School Safety Task Force was created in July 2020 to evaluate the need for SROs in the CHCCS district, following the murders of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man and bouncer, and Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black medical worker, at the hands of law enforcement, he said.
“Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, our community — it mirrored the national conversation concerning the role of law enforcement in our community," Trice said.
The original 2020 School Safety Task Force was created to evaluate the renewal of the district's SRO program, which expired on June 30, 2020. A restructured task force was enacted a year later to focus on new strategies for safer schools and gather actionable data for better decision-making.
While proponents cited SROs in secondary schools as key for relationship building and education, those opposed cited the negative social and emotional impact on students of color, as well as a lack of documented effectiveness of the program as a whole, according to meeting presentation slides.
Ann Harrawood, a former elementary school music teacher in the district, spoke about her own experiences with negative interactions between students and SROs at school. She also spoke about how students cannot truly learn in an environment they don't feel safe in.
“I have seen some things happen that were really, really detrimental and it was not intended — people weren’t trained, they didn't know what to do,” Harrawood said. “So I do have serious concerns that this program would need to be seriously restructured.”
Anna O'Connell, a literacy coach at Carrboro High School, noted that although she's had a positive relationship with Carrboro High School’s current SRO, Grant Mayfield, she had also witnessed negative experiences with past officials.
“We still have students who don't know (Mayfield) and who aren't convinced that he is there in their best interest," she said. "I don’t think it’s acceptable that they come to school and are afraid."
Alternatives to the current safety model include plans for school climate/behavioral health professionals to lead student discipline rather than school administrators, to have SROs be replaced with security guards or behavioral health professionals, or a combination.
The task force formed these alternative options by compiling resources, such as descriptions of job roles and purposes, research studies, news articles and training requirements.
“It’s important to understand that we're not the only school district in the country grappling with this issue, so we've also provided the Board a sample of news reports where that’s highlighted,” Trice said.
In addition to these resources, the task force is turning to public engagement and outreach before they present their final findings to the Board. This meeting is the second step in gaining community input; the first was a virtual information session on March 24.
Future outreach will include community information and input sessions, school safety and security surveys and student and staff focus groups.
Some of these evaluations have already begun, with more opportunities to get community input planned through the end of April. The final presentation of the task force’s findings will be presented at the CHHS Board of Education meeting on June 16, where the BOE will make a final decision.
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