Boulder Valley School District will dramatically revamp how local police interact with its schools, following a Tuesday night board vote to end the district’s current school resource officer program.
The 6-1 vote — with board member Donna Miers dissenting — followed recommendations put forth by the BVSD’s Equity Council and its District Accountability Committee, both of which see a need for the district to redefine the relationship between schools and law enforcement.
Exactly what that relationship looks like in the future has yet to be spelled out. There is widespread agreement, particularly among Equity Council members, that the district needs to correct disproportionate rates of discipline among students of color as well. One troubling statistic: The most recent district data available over three years shows that Black students comprise 1% of BVSD’s student population but accounted for 5.3% of tickets and arrests.
The council is also pressing the district to address inconsistencies in the way school resource officers have been recruited and trained and would like to see schools implement restorative justice practices when dealing with incidents that require discipline.
Under the resolution the board adopted on Tuesday, the district will develop by May 1 a new comprehensive plan for the future of law enforcement’s presence on its campuses — in line with its budget cycle — and will fully end its current SRO program by January 2022.
Most BVSD board members agreed that changes to the district’s current SRO program are necessary, but they debated the timeline of enacting those changes.
Board member Richard Garcia would prefer to expedite the process. Other members, like Stacey Zis, want to stick to the resolution’s timeline, in part because of all the stress the pandemic is forcing onto schools and principals.
“I don’t feel comfortable putting all of this on our principals and schools right now,” Zis said.
Superintendent Rob Anderson echoed the need to keep a longer timeline in place, particularly because the district must negotiate with six different law enforcement agencies that currently partner with the district.
By giving the district time, the board will allow Anderson and his staff to sit down with law enforcement agencies and thoughtfully redesign the way they interact. The district has many details to sort out, including ensuring that if schools don’t have their own school resource officers onsite, the role and expectations of police officers who respond to school incidents will be clearly outlined.
Anderson noted that the district has had positive initial conversations with its law enforcement partners.
Miers, who dissented, questioned whether the resolution would solve the problem of disproportionate rates of discipline among students of color in the district.
“There’s many positive parts to this resolution,” Miers said. “Yes, we need to investigate and address any disproportionate discipline matters as it relates to those kiddos of color. We still, though, must fully address illegal actions, be it sexual assaults, physical abuse, harm to self or others as well as theft and property damage. Keep in mind that many such matters have been referred to law enforcement by our staff.”
She explained that three out of four school discipline matters that law enforcement respond to are initiated by staff.
“When we find out that our staff is referring disproportionately, do we get rid of the staff?” Miers asked.
Board member Lisa Sweeney-Miran shared Miers’ concern, saying that it highlights the need to retrain staff and prioritize bias training.
Miers is also cognizant of the financial impacts of overhauling the district’s current SRO program at a cost of $1.5 million or more “in this tight economy.” Miers doesn’t necessarily see that as a worthy investment, saying that it would bring staff with less authority and less training into the district to handle situations that may ultimately require input from law enforcement.
“We do know that this is going to cost us money and that it will have impacts in this budget cycle on other initiatives, and that’s just a choice that we’re making and that’s fine,” said Board President Tina Marquis.
One firm agreement among Anderson and all board members: Retooling the district’s relations with law enforcement doesn’t mean cutting ties altogether. There will still be times the district needs to consult police for campus incidents.
“We will continue to have to have a relationship with law enforcement,” Anderson told board members. “We will continue to have to call law enforcement.”