WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Police being called to handle fights inside Waterbury schools becoming a hot button issue after a recent altercation and arrests were caught on camera.
The organization Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education (RACCE) urged Waterbury school officials on Wednesday to remove police from school buildings after a graphic video circulated of police arresting two students.
“We’ve been advocating here in Waterbury to have police and policing removed from our schools since 2014,” said Robert Goodrich, executive director of RACCE.
“I will be crystal clear,” Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo responded, “Police need to be in Waterbury schools.”
Goodrich says the activist group has fought for years to convince Waterbury Public Schools not to call the police as their first option to deal with behavioral conflict among students.
“For a long time,” Goodrich said, “Waterbury has been ground zero for the school to prison pipeline in Connecticut.”
A report by Connecticut’s Child Advocate showed Waterbury school officials relied heavily on calling police to respond to behavioral issues of pre-k and elementary school students, as well as students with disabilities in the 2018-19 school year.
Goodrich says he wants Waterbury schools to stop using the police as its first option to solve behavioral problems with students.
“For far too long police have been using schools to assert a punishment paradigm, meaning they suspend and arrest students that are having behavioral issues as opposed to practicing restorative, repairing methods that will help black and brown students get through conflict,” explained Michaela Barratt, a RACCE youth organizer.
“I disagree with their statement,” the chief responded.
The latest debate flaring after an incident at a school on Sept. 20. Police officers were called to West Side Middle School to break up a fight between two students in front of a crowd. A video was released on social media of the incident.
Some viewers, including Goodrich, say they are alarmed and that officers used excessive force on the students.
“Police officers used excessive force by placing their knee and hands on the neck of a student that’s on the ground,” Goodrich said.
“I’ve watched the video,” Chief Spagnolo said. “I don’t see what this group or Robert Goodrich is saying regarding an officer kneeling on the back of a student’s neck.”
We reached out to Superintendent Verna Ruffin; she has not yet responded. But Chief Spagnolo says this about Dr. Ruffin: “I think she’s done a wonderful job.”
Goodrich said the public should expect more debate at the upcoming board of education meetings.