If we care about our children, we have to build a system that emphasizes community and care in our educational system. That begins with removing school resource officers (SROs) from schools. 

Let me tell you a story. 

My cousin was 5 years old when his family immigrated to Connecticut. When he began school, he was bullied by his classmates for his Haitian accent and broken English, an experience that is far too common for non-native English speakers. As the bullying increased, so did his frustration. During one incident, my cousin became upset and overwhelmed and he did what all children do when they can’t handle their big emotions – he acted out. 

Instead of calling a counselor, someone specially trained to care for our children using best practices, his preschool teacher called a uniformed police officer, who was serving as his school’s SRO. The situation was escalated, and by the time my aunt arrived at the school, my cousin was already flanked by law enforcement and the school’s principal. This incident began a pattern of mistrust and punishment that impacted his ability to learn and just be a kid in school. 

At just age 5, my cousin was marked as a threat, not a child in need of compassion and support. 

In contrast, I personally had a good relationship with my SRO. He was friendly, kind and most importantly he was from my community. He was in our school a few times a week, but otherwise, his presence was pretty unremarkable for me. 

Not everyone has my experience. Too many kids have experiences like my cousin faced.

I think most school resource officers, like mine, are good people, but you cannot separate well-intentioned individuals from a system that is not working, and research tells us that school resource officers (SROs) do more harm than good.

Research from Connecticut Voices for Children shows that SROs do not make schools measurably safer or improve academic outcomes. They can however contribute to more students experiencing discipline for school policy violations. 

The source for this data: Connecticut Voices for Children

An SRO in Connecticut can be generally described as a sworn police officer of a local law enforcement agency who has been assigned to a school district based on an agreement between the local school board and local law enforcement. Although SROs can trace their origin back to Flint, Michigan, in the 1950s, their modern conception is rooted in a reaction to the mass shooting at Columbine high school in 1999.

After Columbine, the federal government began encouraging SROs across the country, with the idea that they would serve as a deterrence to this mass violence. Though a fine idea in theory, we’re increasingly learning that SROs do not prevent school shootings – one of the remaining major arguments for why officers are necessary in schools. Instead, the number of mass shootings has only increased since the 1990s. From Sandy Hook ten years ago to Uvalde in 2022, we continue with the same failed solutions at the expense of our kids. 

Speaking of expense, SROs are not only ineffective, but they are also costly. 

According to research published in 2021, “In 2018, 26 states spent nearly $960 million on SROs yet national data also shows that about 60 percent of schools in 2018 did not have any mental health services.” The research continued, “one full-time SRO can cost an estimated $75,000 to $97,000 annually, while a school psychologist averages $80,000 per year and a school nurse $69,500.” Meanwhile, students who are diverted to social services or school officials rather than being arrested were almost 2.5 times less likely to re-offend, as compared to their peers who were arrested.

Our school districts do not have unlimited budgets – something every parent and every member of our school communities is acutely aware of. Especially now, as we confront the ongoing teacher shortage, plus the mental and emotional impacts of the COVID pandemic and other public health risks, our limited resources must be used as efficiently as possible to support the success and well-being of our students. 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it this way: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Every dollar spent on an SRO is one less dollar that could go towards proactively and positively supporting our children. 

Our students are not just our future, they are our present, and they need the best tools possible in order to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Whether you realize it or not, you are impacted by this slow-burning crisis. 

In this legislative session, CT BBSU’s Community First Coalition is calling on our legislative leaders to create safe learning environments by implementing non-criminal restorative justice programs in schools and by redefining what constitutes a school resource officer. 

We cannot continue to shorten the road between school disciplinary issues and the criminal legal system. Instead, we need to fund specialists who are able to non-violently de-escalate situations and create environments where students who face insecurity can feel safe and empowered. The first step towards creating that environment is funding the resources and supports that are proven to help our students thrive.

It’s time for care in our classrooms, not cops.

Shineika Fareus is Organizing Director of the CT Black and Brown Student Union