Do school resource officers have a future in Burlington?

Published: Jun. 18, 2020 at 5:36 PM EDT
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The debate over school resource officers in Burlington schools continues. It comes as protesters push the mayor and the City Council to cut 30% of Burlington Police Department officers. Over the last few days, hundreds of residents have expressed their concerns to councilors-- one of the issues being SROs in the high school and middle schools. Our Dom Amato takes a closer look.

There are two school resource officers who cover more than 4,000 students in the Burlington School District. But some say SROs create a culture of fear and want them out of schools.

"To remove them from the schools, I think, would have irreparable damage," Burlington Deputy Police Chief Matthew Sullivan said.

Right now, school resource officers in Burlington will be funded in Mayor Miro Weinberger's budget. But the mayor believes the incoming superintendent and school board should review the agreement between the district and police before the school year begins.

The Burlington Police Department believes SROs are important, and not only for safety reasons.

"The SRO role, it really creates relationships with community members, young community members that continue throughout their life," Sullivan said.

Per an agreement between the district and police, SROs should only intervene if students, faculty and staff are at risk of harm. All other discipline should come from the district.

Those who oppose SROs believe that doesn't always happen.

"Often, the issues that school resource officers intervene in are often things that they don't necessarily have the training or skills to deal with," Stephanie Seguino said.

Seguino was on the Burlington School Board from 2014-2018. She does not support SROs in schools and says it's not clear if they make kids feel safer in school.

"In many cases, they don't even know why they are there," Seguino said.

SROs do make some parents feel better.

"I think it's important to keep them there for the safety of the kids," said Julie Orenbach of Winooski.

But not all kids feel that safety. According to a letter sent to the Burlington School District from advocacy groups like the ACLU and Rights and Democracy, SROs are called to handle situations teachers aren't trained for and "too often" those calls are made on young black men, criminalizing behavior and causing trauma for students.

"Oftentimes, racism or classism emerges when officers have too much discretion," Seguino said.

The mayor says he will support the decision of the school board when it comes to the use of school resource officers, as long as there is discussion with the community and new superintendent Tom Flanagan who starts July 1.