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Commission elects to ‘redesign’ school safety, eliminate SRO

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Reflecting a growing nationwide trend, the Claremont City Council unanimously approved a plan to “redesign” public school safety, including reassigning the armed and uniformed student resource officer.

Tuesday’s action during the regular city council meeting represents a crucial step in implementing the findings of the Claremont Police Commission’s SRO ad hoc committee, which was tasked with evaluating Claremont’s program. The committee’s resolution came to the council with several significant revisions including a stipulation that no loss of police staffing or funding be included.

The ad hoc committee’s recommendation would have “discontinued financing” of the SRO position effective June 30, 2022, and reassigned officer Jennifer Ganino to “an appropriate lateral designation with a secondary assignment to the Claremont Unified School District for student-specific service calls.”

However, commissioner Caleb Mason objected to the “discontinued financing” wording and wanted guarantees the police department would maintain adequate staff to patrol the city if the SRO was reassigned.

“Effective June 30, 2022, provided that funding is available to ensure no loss of coverage, staff or police officer positions, that the city re-designate the school resource officer to a lateral designation within the police department with a secondary assignment to the Claremont Unified School District to respond to student/school related calls, pending the completion of the redesign of school safety and well being programs by the representative working group,” read the recommendation as passed.

Because the SRO is jointly funded by the city and the Claremont Unified School District, changes to the program must also be approved by the Board of Education. The district has been working through the process on its own and may be discussing the issue at a board meeting in August.

The Claremont Student Equity Coalition has been lobbying public officials for over a year to end the student resource officer program, which funds an armed, uniformed officer on Claremont’s public school campuses. The students contend that SROs have never been shown to be effective and may even be harmful to learning because their presence creates a hostile learning environment, particularly for students of color.

Jayla Sheffield, who is a co-founder of the Claremont Student Equity Coalition and a rising senior at Pomona High School said it would be an embarrassment if Claremont’s city leaders did not decide to reassign the SRO.

During a protest on Monday, she expressed frustration that it took nearly a year since the student group began attending city meetings to express their opposition to the SRO program for the matter to finally get to the council. The students maintain the presence of the SRO creates a hostile leaning environment, particularly for students of color, and has never been shown to be effective in improving school safety.

“There was no concrete evidence that it [SRO] has been beneficial in Claremont,” Ms. Sheffield said. “If they [defenders of the program] are saying that the SRO program is not a problem, it’s also clear that it’s not a good thing either.”

Earlier this month Pomona Unified Board of Education passed a budget that did not include funding for its on campus officers, including the one at Ms. Sheffield’s school. In place of the SRO, Pomona Unified will have proctors trained in de-escalation skills, an idea that students in Claremont would like to see implemented here.

The host of recommendations passed by the council includes expanding training officers receive in de-escalation and student mental health issues; expanding direct students access to mental health professionals; expanding teacher and staff training in behavior management to reduce student misbehavior that would require police response; and requesting that the police department provide updated reports on SRO citations and arrests in winter and summer 2022.

“There is a side you should be on with this topic, you should be on the side of mental health, you should be on the side of more counselors for schools, on the side of not policing kids,” Ms. Sheffield said.

The action also creates a panel of stakeholders including students from the middle and two public high schools, police representatives, city and school officials, parents, and community leaders who would be “tasked with reimagining school safety in Claremont schools and designing a new program that reflects the needs of students, staff, and the community.”

“What we are really recommending is redesigning safety from the ground up with an equity lens,” commissioner Becky Margiotta said during the June 3 police commission meeting.

While the SRO program remains popular with parents and CUSD’s educators, during Tuesday’s meeting the overwhelming majority of residents who spoke during public comment favored eliminating the position.

The council expressed gratitude for officer Ganino’s performance and dedication to her job and several members said that their support for eliminating the SRO position was contingent on sufficient funding to support her lateral transition. Members of the ad hoc committee have emphasized all along the recommendations to change Claremont’s school safety program in no way reflects poorly on Officer Ganino, saying “it’s the program not the person.”

 

 

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