I was never a fan of playing hot potato. It was a simple game that encouraged passing the buck until someone was left standing in the middle stuck holding the proverbial “hot” potato. That person loses. Recently, I realized this trivial children’s game describes the lack of action across our state by lawmakers when it comes to several key items that would impact our communities, especially in education.
The political climate across the state has continued to do nothing to remove student resource officers (SROs) from schools or make any major impact to create a safer environment for students in Connecticut. In fact, the climate is moving in the opposite direction. It is clear this state has a steady habit of ignoring or refusing to address the issue.
The harmful and uninspired tactic of relying on police to handle problems inside of schools drastically disrupts the learning environment, as well as student wellness. Every incident, small or otherwise, is a nail and the state uses the police as the hammer.
In New Haven, the Board of Education previously voted to phase out SROs after conversations in 2020. But two years later, students are back in schools and SROs have returned with them. Our lawmakers at the local and state levels must be held accountable for the promises they’ve made to both us as constituents and our students.
It’s about where the priorities of lawmakers and policy makers in the state truly lie. In Waterbury, the Board of Education approved a plan to spend $57 million of their $89 million of American Rescue Plan on property instead of using the relief funding for educational programming or mental health opportunities for students. Meanwhile, Waterbury has a disturbing history of using the police as an ineffective attempt to keep order in city schools.
The inaction continued into the General Assembly this year. The 2022 session should have been a major victory for the disentangling of schools from systems of incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution, specifically in circumstances beyond the control of the child. However, the gutting of several well-established bills into the perversion that is HB 5417 shows lawmakers do not have the pulse of the communities in which they serve. The reality is, elected officials refuse to make the necessary changes our communities need in a real, tangible way.
The onus falls to us as community leaders and organizers to continue holding them accountable. We only care about the results of making sure our communities and, more importantly, our students are put in positions to succeed without the unnecessary and unacceptable infiltration of police within the hallways of our schools.
Policies and budgets are a statement of values. For us as community leaders, our priorities must be focused on continuing to fight for the needs and wants of our communities. It’s been made clear that our priorities and our values are not being championed by Connecticut lawmakers. It is our duty to continue the movement for safe communities in this state and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Addys Castillo is executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition.