TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Southern Arizona’s largest school district is considering the cost of having cops on campuses, both financially and emotionally, after calls from the community.
A handful of comments were read during the Tucson Unified School District’s Governing Board Meeting Tuesday night. The meetings have been held virtually, but community members can send in comments and concerns to be shared during the public comment portion.
“I demand that you end the practice of police in your school campuses.”
“The Tucson Police Department should not be present in Tucson schools.”
“What measures will this board take to ensure the safety of our students?”
“We have really amazing officers that are working on our school campus, but we’ve also had some that shouldn’t be working around children," said board member Adelita Grijalva Wednesday.
Grijalva said she would like to see the money rerouted to new programs that focus on prevention and the hiring of more school counselors and social workers to de-escalate situations, instead of turning to law enforcement.
“To paint the brush that all of them, that they should all be gone is not my position," said Grijalva. "But, I do think that we should not be spending maintenance and operation funds on law enforcement.”
Watch the full TUSD virtual meeting here.
The calls come after weeks of protests over the killing of George Floyd while in police custody. Four former Minneapolis police officers are charged in connection to his death.
The Minneapolis school board recently voted to end its contract with the local police department. Now, other districts are having discussions or following suit.
“To have a day to day presence, I want to understand that impact on our students," said TUSD Governing Board President Kristel Ann Foster.
Foster, who said she has supported school resource officers in the past, said it is time to learn from the community and hear what the police presence feels like for all students. She said now is the time to re-envision what a safe classroom will look like when and if students and staff return, with COVID-19 precautions and today’s concerns.
“It’s not about necessarily the problems that have happened," said Foster. "Again, it’s about the perception everyday and what kind of safe environment are we creating for our kids, everyday.”
“You have some people that are very strong and say, I don’t want them there at all. And then you have others that say, but if we had more of them, we wouldn’t have school shootings with a stranger coming in," said Grijalva. "How do we balance the need to secure our campuses and make sure we have supports for our students?”
The district has spent years and funding on enhancing safety measures at schools with security systems, keyless entries and additional officers. The board voted last year to give school safety officers tasers and body cameras, which would not be used on students. The officers who would be using the tools are in charge of patrolling all TUSD buildings and responding to calls like school lockdowns, break-ins or threats on campus.
Grijalva said some of the officers on TUSD campuses are funded through a grant, while others are paid for out of the budget.
The school board will have a virtual meeting again on June 16 to talk about police presence on campuses, the district’s budget and the plan for the school year with COVID-19 precautions.