East Lansing Public Schools superintendent, executive board, and many parents shared their opinions on school resource officers at the April 24 meetings. Strong feelings were shared about SROs, and reactions were very mixed.
Superintendent Dori Leyko started the meeting with safety updates for East Lansing Public Schools. Leyko gave specific dates for staff to have critical incident response training. Sessions include a range of targets, hazards, and violence training including intruders and other insider violence. Elementary training will be separate from middle and high school training so they can be catered to the different buildings and age groups.
Leyko also said the district’s consultants from Secure Education Consulting will be in the high school May 3. They will be engaging in stakeholder meetings and then consulting with the district leaders and giving district safety assessments.
“We will prioritize their recommendations to determine our next steps for the establishment of a district safety committee,” said Leyko.
The mention of safety guidelines transitioned right into the public comment part of the meeting, where more than a dozen parents spoke. The main issue on the table was whether there should be school resource officers on site at schools. The first parent was in support of having a support office on the school grounds full-time. He argued they would be there to respond immediately to violent events and not for discipline.
Immediately after this parent spoke, a retired board member and grandmother of ELPS students spoke and said the opposite. Her argument was that any money given to the district should be used on mental health resources and not putting armed police in schools.
A common argument from people opposed to SROs was that students of color could be targeted. Melissa Fore is a mother to a mixed child that attends ELHS and said all police officers make her daughter nervous. Although Fore does not believe her daughter should fear all police, she still doesn’t agree with armed officers in school.
“The research just doesn’t support the claim that having armed police officers in schools automatically makes schools safer,” said Fore. “In fact, it’s just the opposite, which we’ve heard repeatedly tonight. We know that school police officers arrest and punish black and brown students at twice the rate of white students (2021 study from the University of Albany). In fact, we have examples of school shootings where resource officers face child neglect charges for not immediately rushing into the school to help before people are killed, like Scott Peterson, the SRO from Parkland High School.”
Del Chenault is a dad who has sent many kids through ELPS, starting in 2006. He said his family has seen a disturbing trend when it comes to their safety and how issues have become increasingly worse in the past few years.
“I think it’s insulting to police officers to assume they will inappropriately apply force, inappropriately apply the law, or act in a biased manner. When you look at the training of a police officer, they receive almost 600 hours of training. Yet this board’s response to school safety following the uproar in January and February was to hire a handful of security guards that receive 40 hours of training, most of which is in first aid,” said Chenault. He then explained that security guards get no law training, no de-escalation training, and no mental health training.
“The legislature has approved $25 million this year, plus additional money in the governor’s projected budget for 2024 for more SROs. 195 school districts were approved for those grants this year and its safety money that this district is leaving on the table for others to gobble up,” said Chenault. He then directly quoted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and said “Every parent wants their kids to be safe in their schools. These grants will help us hire SROs so we can make sure children, teachers, and staff are safe at school. This is a positive step.”
After lots of back and forth from the people in attendance, the board decided to speak about SROs. Seven different members shared their opinions, and just like the audience they also had mixed opinions. No conclusion has been decided about SROs, but Leyko did close out the topic with some thoughts of her own.
“I’ve talked to members of the ELPD to participate in our new safety committee. We will need to be collaborative with them. I think there has been miscommunication about our relationship with the police department and I am very grateful for them,” said Leyko. “Adding a consistent liaison is the one thing I do think is missing here. That’s the one piece that could be a compromise between the police department and the school district and its members.”