Burlington, Montpelier and Winooski are among the Vermont communities that have recently been debating the existence of uniformed police officers in their schools. South Burlington is joining them in holding discussions about the future of their own school resource officers.
In much of the country, these discussions have centered around whether or not the officers — called SROs for short — improve school safety and security. However, in South Burlington, the safety piece may not be applicable because the SROs aren’t tasked with doing the same things as many of their counterparts in other school districts.
“I know that their job description right now is not having any role in security — any deep role in security — other than sort of forming relationships and hoping to kind of head off any problems that could happen,” South Burlington School Board clerk Bridget Burkhardt said.
“That’s why we’ve put in place these security protocols,” South Burlington School Board member Brian Minier said. “That’s why we’ve hardened the entrances. And in terms of the relationships — were to happen, were the SROs to move out of the schools, that could still be done from the police department.”
A South Burlington school staff member reported that during Monday night’s City Council meeting, at least one council member asked if there were any concrete benefits to having school resource officers. That same staff member asked if city officials had contacted superintendent David Young or anyone else in school district administration about this.
“I have not been contacted or emailed from anyone in the city, and I don’t believe any of the (school building-level) admninistrators have, either,” Young said. “I’ll probably connect with (city) administrators a little bit and we may need to talk a little more with (Police) Chief (Shawn) Burke.”
South Burlington High School principal Patrick Burke told the school board Wednesday night that he has no interest in what he referred to as ‘a bully with a badge’ and that students at the high school have often benefited from SROs. However, he added that because he’s a white man, his personal relationship with police may affect his viewpoint.
“My students and other members of the community, especially students of color and people of color, may have a different perspective, and I think we need to pay attention to that and listen to that,” Burke said.
The school board members aren’t in a position to make any decisions right now. They’re in the process of developing a framework document to list how their decision-making process would play out and whom they’d want to hear from before any decisions are made. Burkhardt said she’ll continue working on the document in the coming weeks.