Local activists have been pushing for school resource officers to be removed from South Bend Community School Corporation schools. SROs were not on the agenda of the Sept. 20 board meeting, but several members of the public spoke in favor of their removal.
That included current Washington High School student Maya Marosz. She said she transferred from John Glenn High School in Walkerton earlier this year. That school has three SROs, and she was one of only four Black students.
She said she feels more comfortable at Washington, the only South Bend Community School Corporation high school without the officers.
“My opinion is we don’t need them,” Marosz said.
Instead, the school has unarmed security guards, which Marosz said should be expanded to the rest of the district.
“If we can get a system in place to have security guards, I believe that would be beneficial to all the schools,” she said.
Kyla Henderson, a 2020 Washington graduate, also spoke against SROs.
“I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that you spent half a million dollars on the South Bend Police Department,” Henderson said. “And quite frankly, the fact that I’ve been at several meetings and hear the same thing over and over again, and you have yet to answer any questions from the first meeting I’ve attended, I am very disappointed.”
Currently, the district spends roughly $500,000 annually on four school resource officers from the South Bend Police Department. Adams and Riley High School each have one officer, and the other two split their time between four middle schools — Jefferson, LaSalle, Jackson and Edison.
Supporters of SROs argue that they keep students safe and offer mentorship, but those opposed say the opposite is true for Black and Brown students, the money could be better spent elsewhere and that mentorship could be provided by school employees who aren’t police officers.
According to state data, Indiana SROs arrest Black students at twice the rate of white students.
And national research has found that schools with SROs are more likely to have students referred to law enforcement, including for low level offenses, than schools without SROs. Arrested students are also less likely to graduate and more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system.
Jorden Giger of Black Lives Matter South Bend said students have been tased and beaten by SROs, and that removing them would help improve equity in the district.
“How can you truly be concerned about equity and restorative justice if you’re not even willing to do the due diligence of looking at the impact SROs are causing against Black students in particular,” Giger said. “If you truly believe all these words that you put up on slides, then you need to do your due diligence and listen to students.”
Through a door-to-door canvassing effort and an online petition, Geiger said BLM has collected over 1,500 signatures in favor of removing the officers.
South Bend schools did conduct a survey earlier this year to gauge opinions on SROs, but Giger called it flawed and unscientific.
“You didn’t even ask basic demographic questions like ‘what is your race?’” Giger said. “So how do you know that Black respondents have a different experience with SROs than non-Black respondents? So, I think you all need to do more homework.”
In contrast, South Bend teachers union president Linda Lucy said that the district’s teachers have “unwavering support for our SROs.”
“I never for one minute think that SROs are depriving children of an education,” Lucy said. “I think we only have to look today to Newport News, with another high school shooting.”
The district and police department currently operate under a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, dating back to 2012. However, it is indefinite and will thus continue until one or both parties agree to end or modify it.
After public comment, Oletha Jones was the only board member who spoke in favor of removing the officers. Jeanette McCullough said that if there are issues with the MOU, it must be updated if the officers are to stay.
Leslie Wesley spoke in favor of keeping the officers, and also asked superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings to look into bringing a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to South Bend schools.
She cited School City of Mishawaka, which currently has a DARE program and places SROs in all elementary, middle and high schools.
The other board members did not speak on the matter.
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