WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — There were about a dozen protesters outside Waterbury City Hall on Thursday night, calling for all public resource officers to be removed from the school district.
The passionate group said they’re fighting an uphill battle to change the school systems, saying they want police out of schools because it creates an unfair pipeline from classrooms to prison.
“It’s about people, and it’s about changing culture and pushing past the cultural white supremacy that dominates school practices here in Connecticut and across the country,” said Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education’s (RACCE) Robert Goodrich.
RACCE said there are not enough diversionary programs in the school system to keep kids out of jail, adding that they would like to see more.
“To seek viable ways to discontinue Black and brown lives being funneled into the prison industrial complex,” RACCE’s Ala Ochumare added.
Waterbury has eight school resource officers stationed in high schools and middle schools across the city. Protestors would like them removed immediately and replaced with experienced mental health counselors.
“We are talking about mental health professionals who understand the students’ culture, who speak not only one language but understand what it’s like to grow up in an impoverished neighborhood,” said Waterbury’s Michaela Barratt.
The Waterbury police chief said that would be going backward when they have made such strides in the community with their police activity league, which has been recognized as a national role model for integrating officers and students — whether it be on the basketball court or in tutoring sessions outside of school.
“Police officers are there for many different reasons, it’s not for social work and it’s not for psychological work, it is for the safety of that school community and to create relationships these connections with the youth in our community,” said Chief Fernando Spagnolo.
The Office of the Child Advocate put out a 34-page study looking at the Waterbury school system during a six month time. It found that there were approximately 200 calls from educators pre-K through eighth grade to police for disciplinary action in the 2018-2019 school year.
The Office of the Child Advocate said it does need to be looked at.
“I think the police officers serve a purpose in the school to identify that role and get input from the community on what that role is,” Spagnolo said. “I think it is an important thing. I have been working with the mayor and the superintendent of the schools on having a community roundtable.”
The chief said he is open to ideas and anything that would improve security and safety and relationships inside the community.