School Resource Officers Aren’t the Answer for Safe and Healthy…

Barging into my sixth-grade science class at Lucas Middle School in Durham, my school’s police officer would warn students about the dangers of certain misbehaviors. I remember being intimidated by the threat of arrest, the weapons on his holster, and the menacing authority of his uniform. 

What I don’t remember is having a guidance counselor, a nurse, or a social worker to support me through the horrendous transition that is being a teenager. Up until high school, I was treated more like a threat than a student.

School resource officers have a disproportionate effect on students of color. According to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Racial Equity Report Cards, 12 percent of cases sent to juvenile court in Durham County were school-based, and of those cases, 86 percent of the offenders were Black. 

At Josephine Dobbs Clement Early College High School in Fayetteville, we didn’t have school resource officers. Our administrators and our one guidance counselor would handle any disciplinary issues we had. Though we were under-resourced, our environment felt safe. 

Why can’t this same system of discipline be implemented at Riverside, Northern, Durham School of the Arts, Jordan, Southern, and Hillside to prevent student behaviors from being criminalized?

A common argument is that teachers and administrators don’t feel safe without their school resource officers. This is concerning because it implies that faculty are frightened of their students. That speaks more to a need for teacher training and additional mental health support, not more school resource officers.

Mass school shootings are also a major concern, but school resource officers at my middle school didn’t have the training to prevent or protect me from one. The school shooter is most likely to be a student at that school, so if we took preventative measures like mental health intervention, we could stop a traumatic experience like this from happening altogether.

Durham County recently passed a budget that reflects misguided priorities, with $2.7 million allocated to funding school resource officers. This does not consider student needs, especially during a pandemic, which has had devastating effects on the Durham community. We’re going back to school in August, and what we need are therapists, nurses, psychologists, guidance counselors, substance abuse specialists, sexual health educators, and restorative practice centers, not an institution that reinforces the school-to-prison-pipeline in a place where people are supposed to feel safe. 

That’s why I’m organizing a Youth Summit on School Safety with the Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative, to be held via Zoom on Monday, July 20 from 6:00–8:00 p.m. If you are a middle or high school student in Durham Public Schools, RSVP online for more information and a $25 gift card.

In a recent statement, Chairman Mike Lee of the Durham Public School’s Board of Education stressed the need for a replacement plan if he were to vote for the removal of school resource officers. With input from students across Durham Public Schools, together we are going to create one.

Check out this Op-Ed on IndyWeek: