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Activists get the win in fight over Rochester's school resource officers 

A day after Rochester City Council passed a budget which would remove armed officers from schools, local advocacy groups and activists celebrated a small win, though they immediately called on the district to put more funding behind programs that support students.

The Community Task Force, a collection of local advocacy groups, had advocated for years to remove school resource officers from Rochester city schools. Those calls intensified after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the resulting protests, which have centered on longstanding racial disparities in the U.S.
click to enlarge Sarah Adams, an eighth grader at East High, said the school resource officer never took the time to build a relationship with her peers. - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • Sarah Adams, an eighth grader at East High, said the school resource officer never took the time to build a relationship with her peers.

“We should never be in a situation where police are the final authority for the well-being of a student,” Stevie Vargas, community organizer for Citizen Action of New York, said during a news conference Wednesday. “Criminalizing our students is not serving their best interest.”

The Council-approved budget, which is awaiting Mayor Lovely Warren’s signature, would eliminate a $1.5 million contract between the district and the Rochester Police Department. This school year, 12 police officers had been stationed in city schools.

The Community Task Force is now calling for the district to use any savings from the elimination of school resource officers to provide more funding for guidance counselors, social programs, and safety net programs for students. Members of the Community Task Force include the Alliance for Quality Education, Teen Empowerment, the Genesee Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Citizen Action of New York, and The Children’s Agenda.

“There’s no consensus that schools are safer with the presence of armed police, and there are actually studies to show that there is a negative impact,” Eamonn Scanlon, education policy manager at the Children’s Agenda, said at a news conference Wednesday.

One 2018 study looked at schools which received three years of federal grants for school resource officers and found that their students were 2.5 percent less likely to graduate and 4 percent less likely to go to college.

“I don’t even know my SRO’s name,” said Sarah Adams, an eighth grader at East High. “Why is that? It’s because they never took the time to build a relationship with me or any of my peers. He was just there, staring kids down with his handcuffs and gun.”

Rochester activists and advocacy groups have for years argued that the policing of schools was a tool used to feed the “school to prison pipeline.” Placing armed police officers in schools sets students — particularly black and brown students — up for failure by criminalizing behavior at a young age, they’ve said.

Heavy policing in general has a negative impact on city youth, the task force members emphasized Wednesday.

A 2019 Harvard study found that during New York City’s Operation Impact, a program which increased policing in high crime areas, black boys that lived in those areas had significantly lower test scores. Black 15 year olds, the report stated, were also about six times more likely to be stopped by the police than white teens.

“We’re talking about children,” said Saadiq Muhammad, an RCSD parent. “If you go out to any private or suburban school, I’m pretty sure you won’t see armed officers.”

There are several suburban districts in Monroe County that have SROs, including Gates-Chili, Wheatland-Chili, and Greece. Scanlon said the next step is to ensure all Monroe County schools remove police officers.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.

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