GREENSBORO — Guilford County residents should soon get to weigh in on the issue of having uniformed police officers in schools.
The Guilford County Board of Education indicated Sunday, without taking a formal vote, its interest in hosting public forums about school resource officers, or SROs.
The board held a special called meeting to participate in an education forum organized by the Greensboro and High Point Chapters of the NAACP. More than 50 people attended, not including board members.
The forum, which lasted a little more than an hour, touched on issues including achievement gaps, Say Yes to Education, school funding and a lack of textbooks for students. The issue of SROs, and what’s called the school to prison pipeline, got the most attention.
Some parents and advocates, including several who attended the forum, have repeatedly complained to the board about the continued presence of police officers in schools, as well as related disparities.
Sunday night, an audience member questioned the board about students getting pushed from the classroom into the criminal justice system, what’s called the school to prison pipeline. Some point to disparities in the frequency and severity of punishments in school, particularly for minority or disadvantaged students, as contributing factors to such a trend.
The Rev. Laverne Carter asked the board to expand the conversation on SROs to include more of the community. She urged them to set a time frame to get started and suggested the first quarter of 2016.
The board has discussed, but not acted on, eliminating or reducing the number of SROs in middle schools. It is divided on the issue of law enforcement in schools.
“We have not paid as much attention to basic fundamental skills our students need in order to survive in this society,” board member Sandra Alexander said in response to a question about the school to prison pipeline. Educators need to focus more on reading, language development and writing — skills necessary for higher order thinking, she said. Alexander then noted ways the school system is addressing those needs, such as implementing a culturally relevant curriculum.
Board members acknowledged disparities in discipline, particularly black students getting arrested.
“I don’t think anybody wants that to happen,” board member Darlene Garrett said. She said she doesn’t know why SROs are needed in middle schools.
The other side, Garrett said, is some believe law enforcement is needed in school for various reasons.
Vice Chairman Amos Quick disagreed.
“What we need on school campuses is security. We don’t need law enforcement,” Quick said, drawing scattered applause. “There’s a tremendous difference between the two.”
Police could still be called as needed for emergencies.
“There have always been fights in schools. There have always been students who misbehave,” Quick said. “But the difference now is these students are getting records that are ruining their future and I am thoroughly against that.”
Throughout the forum, board members commented on the need for more community support and engagement. Audience members asked the board to be more proactive about issues such as the need for parent mentoring, classroom resources and helping low income families access computers and the Internet at schools after hours.
Parent and advocate Lissa Harris asked the board to think outside of the box when taking next steps to address concerns raised in the forum. She suggested they consider creating crisis intervention teams that work in each school or security departments to work in lieu of law enforcement.
Contact Marquita Brown at (336) 373-7002, and follow @mbrownNR on Twitter.