By Dick Foreman, Sandy Lowe, Robin Arredondo Savage, Mary Lou Taylor and Zita Johnson
We have, among all of us, more than a century of school-board service in Tempe/Ahwatukee Foothills/Chandler/Guadalupe and Phoenix. We know our community. We know that our community has many differing viewpoints. And, most importantly, we know that we must always keep our ears, minds and hearts open to one another.
Our diversity as a community is what makes us what we are. We love and support our Tempe Union family of schools and we rise now to defend them.
On behalf of our students, staff and parents, we ask that all of you reading this join in our call, too.
The Tempe Union Governing Board has taken a sudden, unprecedented and ill-advised narrow vote to disband all school resource officers. These are the highly trained individuals who are NOT police, per se, but are active school community players who are fully invested in their love of students, highly capable of dealing with not just safety or threats, but health and emotional issues, as well.
These are not just officers sitting in a patrol car in the parking lot and glaring at kids. For goodness sake, these men and women are integral partners in the school culture of safety, equity and respect.
The resolution adopted by a narrow 3-2 margin says that it seeks to address “equitable discipline practices.”
Actually, it does nothing of the sort. SROs do not set policy, advance arbitrary disciplinary measures, nor counter the directives of the school Governing Board. They follow them. Their service being questioned now is unworthy and forces a negative debate of anecdotal trashing.
But the board majority says that they wish to “build positive community relationships, ensure a safe learning environment for students and staff, and address students’ and staff social and emotional needs.”
However, as a Governing Board, one might wish to acknowledge that if you have the slightest interest in supporting staff, you actually need to listen to them, too. More than 90 percent of Tempe Union staff support the SRO program according to a recent survey, including every single school principal. So much for the “emotional needs” of staff.
As for building “positive community relationships,” one might start by not ignoring your community voices. That means, as difficult as it is, listening to every perspective, being deliberate, taking the time to hear from the diverse and wonderful community of voices that we are. This resolution completely muzzles parent and community leaders, who are now joining us in the ranks of the alarmed, since we are all simply being told that SROs will go away. We believe and many others believe that this perspective, in all actuality, recklessly ignores student equity, health and safety in favor of political pandering.
Make no mistake, police reform and long-overdue student-equity issues must be discussed as we continue to grow as a community and learn how to better interact with one another on behalf of our most precious resource, our children. As difficult as this process can be for many, we know that this is exactly what must be done as past Governing Board members. But the action you have taken is not that.
Your action is pure politics and anecdotal hysteria run amok. How else can we view a Governing Board resolution that states the solution is to eliminate SROs before the study demanded of the superintendent is actually made? In other words, study this and come to a pre-ordained recommendation and conclusion because it has already been decided. No need to further discuss, listen or understand.
Trust us, you do not have it figured out. We do not state this out of hubris. We say this out of the learning experiences we have all had as Governing Board members and that we now hope you will engage with us as partners by not just ruling over us. We join you in this admission, that sometimes we just don’t get it right. We know that this is not because any of us are bad people or that we have bad intentions. It is because we are human. Sometimes our filters get clogged. Maybe “Covid Crazy” takes over. Sometimes, we just have a bad day. We temporarily think that the voices we listen to are the only voices that matter. We all do it. We’ve all done it. It is always wrong.
We have heard from many, many folks in the last few weeks. They represent every nook, corner and cranny of our community. And we also have anecdotal evidence regarding the positive impact SROs have on our students and staff. One Tempe Union student, for example, responded this way to the question: “What do you think of the Governing Board voting to remove SROs from your campus?” The answer: “I don’t think that’s a good idea. We have like 3,000 kids on campus and not one trained security person? We really like our SRO. He goes into the Academic Lab and teaches us about crime, laws and forensic evidence. He’s really cool.”
Students see the SROs as another support person they can trust and turn to when they need help. And yes, ALL students should feel this way based on trust and personal safety! They won’t get that by our Governing Board playing politics with the SROs. And they never will if this resolution is fully enacted.
Please take the time now to actually listen to your SROs and stop labeling them as part of the problem when actually their role is to support the school culture of safety, security and student equity as their highest priority. It begins with intense additional training on top of their public-safety service that demands they be willing to put their lives on the line for us every day they are on the job.
We respectfully wish to join you, Tempe Union Governing Board members, not fight with you. Please reconsider this resolution at your next meeting, set it aside, and offer a long-term, thoughtful dialogue with all of us. Let us help you deal with student equity. Let us help you ensure students, faculty and staff really are safe and secure on Tempe Union’s campuses. We are committed to it.
The writers are former Tempe Union High School District Governing Board members.