Northampton School Committee resolves to ban school resource officers

  • Northampton High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2020 7:59:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — There will be no school resource officers in city schools this year — and it will likely stay that way in years to come.

A resolution committing “to indefinitely continuing to not employ the use of School Resource Officers” in the district passed at a School Committee meeting held over Zoom on Thursday evening.

The resolution also notes the committee supports Senate Bill 2800, police reform legislation that makes having a school resource officer optional. Currently, the state requires districts to have a resource officer unless the state grants them an exception. The School Committee resolution was based on a similar one adopted unanimously by Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee in June.

After the Northampton City Council voted to cut the Police Department’s budget by 10% last month, Chief Jody Kasper announced that Officer Josh Wallace was moved from his former full-time position as the district’s school resource officer to a patrol unit. At the time, Kasper said there would be no school resource officer going forward unless the funding situation changed.

Ward 3 member Emily Serafy-Cox presented the resolution FalThursday.

“I bring this resolution, actually, because my daughter is a person of color whose father has been assaulted by police on numerous occasions,” she said. “As she grows up, I want her to be in schools that are free of police so that she can concentrate on her learning. This, of course, is not just about my own daughter — this is about all of the students in our schools.”

The resolution is nonbinding, as all resolutions are, Serafy-Cox said, but it states an intention. “It does not bar us from making some different decisions down the road, but I think that it’s important to send a powerful message to students and families in our community,” she said.

It’s not about Wallace, Serafy-Cox said — the idea is that “no matter who is in that position, this position is not a strategy for discipline that the Northampton Public Schools wants to take.”

Roni Gold, an at-large member of the committee, wanted to postpone a vote, in part to have a larger community conversation about the issue and hear from more constituents. “There’s no school resource officer this year,” he said. “Let’s have a conversation, and so when we move into next year, we’re prepared and we have a plan.”

“Ultimately, out of principle, I don’t think we can vote on something that doesn’t exist with the potential that it might exist in the future,” Ward 6 member Lonnie Kaufman said of the school resource officer position. “I don’t think that’s fair to our future School Committee members, and I don’t think it’s fair to our community to be left out of the discussion like this.”

At-large member Susan Voss said, “I feel like I’ve had more outreach on this topic than almost any other topic during my time on the School Committee … I just am left with the conclusion that it is not healthy for our students, many of them, to have a school resource officer in our buildings.”

A number of people spoke during public comment Thursday night about the resolution.

Camille Cammack said she’s the parent of two black sons in the district who already encounter the police downtown and worry when they drive that they will be pulled over. “I don’t think it’s fair that they also encounter an armed police officer in their school,” which “should be a place of safety and learning for them.”

Tadea Martin-Gonzalez, who graduated this year from Northampton High School, said she believes students of color were disciplined differently than white students at the school.

“Punishing kids really doesn’t lead them to grow,” she said. “So I don’t understand why an armed individual is who we are sending in to further perpetuate these discrepancies.”

“School resource officer” is a “feel-good name for police officers,” said resident Gillian Love. Police “do not serve as protectors of people of color,” Love said, “and I say this as a person of color who also has been assaulted and harmed by police.”

BJ Plante, a parent of a recent Northampton High School graduate, spoke in support of a school resource officer. “I think the anti-police rhetoric in this meeting has no place in making a decision about whether or not there should be a school resource officer,” she said. “If you don’t want him armed, don’t arm him.”

“My daughter had a huge trauma this year,” she said. “Who was there for her? Officer Wallace and Douglas the comfort dog,” she said, adding that Wallace regularly checked in on her daughter with the trained golden doodle. Plante started a petition in support of keeping Wallace in the schools, which has more than 1,300 signatures on Change.org.

The committee voted 6-2 to pass the resolution, with Gold and Kaufman voting no and lon abstaining. 


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