The move has inspired many other districts in the U.S. to make a similar decision – or at least to consider it.
School officials have been an integral part of American public schools for decades. They are supposed to protect the campus and even look after students. But activists say these officials have criminalized black and Latin American students.
Why are police officers in schools?
These officers have the same training, skills, and resources as other members of the police or sheriff’s department – but their roles are more diverse. They resolve disputes, monitor bus traffic, and simply provide security while acting as advisors, mentors, and sometimes teachers.
Violent confrontations can frighten students
Many police and student confrontations in schools have become violent and reflect some interactions between law enforcement agencies and people on the streets of the city.
These interactions scarred students like Amir Lumumba, 12, who was watching an SRO at his primary school in Dayton, Ohio, and handcuffed one of his classmates after a fight broke out.
“I was incredulous,” Amir told CNN. “There is more than one way to get a child out of a classroom. You don’t have to put them on the floor, but handcuff them to get them to the office.”
Amir, who is now an eighth grader in Montgomery County, Maryland, has been working for months to extend Montgomery Public Schools’ SRO program to middle schools.
Color students and people with disabilities are often punished disproportionately, lawyers and students say.
Black students accounted for 15% of the student body and 31% of transfers or arrests. 65 percent of the arrests were students of colored or mixed races.
“I don’t think SROs should be in school because I feel like young black boys like me, we are addressed more often than other people,” said Amir.
What would police-free schools look like?
It is unclear how school districts would redirect the funds previously provided to sworn officials on campus.
Some advocates, such as Keri Smith, deputy director of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos in Denver, fear that these funds will be used to strengthen other infrastructures or systems that are still criminalizing youth.
“We want the police to leave schools, not just the bodies,” said Smith. “We don’t want to turn the police off and add more cameras and metal detectors.”
Instead, school officials should consider funding arts and music programs and increasing the number of advisors, Smith said.
“It is extremely unnecessary and poor money distribution (SRO program) considering that we only have a social worker in a school with 2,000 students or a nurse for 2,000 students a day a week,” Benas told CNN.
Benas said that after Floyd’s death and clashes between police and demonstrators in Raleigh, she and her classmates began to question how they were traditionally disciplined and how school resources were distributed.
The petition has now collected more than 4,000 signatures.
Some say that SROs are still the best community policing
For Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association’s School Resource Officers, it is disappointing to see communities remove SROs from schools without considering additional training or other changes in the way officials work.
“When school districts have good, solid SRO programs, they eliminate the best community-based police program that a community could have,” Canady told CNN.
SROs have played a role in preventing school shootings and have stopped them in the past. But they also serve as a deterrent to other types of crimes, he said.
“There will be attacks, there will be drug problems on campus, there will be intruders,” said Canady. “There will be dangers coming from outside and not just in the category of active shooters.”
Some school officials agree that SROs can have a positive impact on campus.
“We have seen less violence, fewer suspensions. We have seen more academics and more children who want to become law enforcement officers,” Art McCoy, superintendent of the Jennings School District in St. Louis County, Missouri, told CNN.
Missouri school district students will continue to see and interact with sworn officials when they return to campus, he said.
The school district has made some adjustments in recent years after Michael Brown was killed in 2014, McCoy said.
The district has agreed with the St. Louis County Police Department that officers must represent at least 75% of the predominantly black students, or at least be from the boroughs served by the district.
“That is the level of respect and redistribution of power,” said McCoy. “It’s about creating a community that loves each other.”
“It’s not you against us, it’s just us,” added the superintendent.
Canady – along with some school heads – believes that clashes between SROs and students, including violent incidents, can be prevented if officials are properly trained.
Most law enforcement officers have some training on youth issues, but SROs should do additional training on implicit prejudice and mental health issues among adolescents, Canady said.
“If we don’t find a way to fix this relationship, starting with youth,” said Canady, “then at some point we’ll have another generation of adults with this separation.”