News

CVU faculty, students speak out against school officer position

BY ERIN GALLAGHER

Community News Service 

Several members of the Champlain Valley School District community urged the school board to end the one-year-old school resource officer (SRO) position during a board meeting last month.

CVU faculty and a student spoke at the meeting, saying the position of SRO — currently held by Shelburne police officer Matt Collins — is ineffective and creates an unsafe environment for students of color. 

“The Hinesburg Equity Group recognizes the importance of student safety and mental health, and we believe the presence of a school resource officer is not an effective strategy of support for student and community needs,” said Christina Deeley on behalf of the Hinesburg Equity Group. 

The group has student members that feel that an armed SRO creates an environment of hostility and anxiety, Deeley said. 

Peter Langella, a school librarian and co-advisor to the CVU Racial Alliance Committee, read a statement from high school student Bene Yodishembo on her perspective on the school officer position. 

Yodishembo cited the school board’s denouncement of racism over the summer. 

“The harsh reality is that racism is built into almost every institution in this country,” she wrote. “Whether we want to believe it is or not, policing doesn’t fall far from that tree … I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that every time I see any kind of cop that my first instinct isn’t to look for other black students and see if they’re safe or not.”

Lacey Richards, a social studies teacher, advocated for reallocating the money currently used to fund the SRO.

“I disagree with the perceived benefit of having an armed police officer on campus when we could instead be investing that money in preventative measures like more social workers and mental health practitioners in our schools,” she said. 

Janelle Moynihan, a speech and language pathologist at CVU, cited research from the University of Vermont, a Vermont Legal Aid statement and an American Civil Liberties Union police reform plan as evidence in opposition to the idea that SROs create safer schools.

“If we’re not listening to these voices,” she said, “then I think we need to ask whose comfort and safety we are valuing and whose voices we are centering by having an armed SRO at CVU.”

Jess Lemieux, a science teacher, talked about how her feelings on the SRO have evolved since the position was first proposed and created. Though she initially felt comforted by the presence of an armed officer — in the wake of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., — she said, “I am not safer with an SRO and our students of color are less safe.”

Almost every speaker expressed that they had no animosity toward Collins, rather toward the position itself. 

“We are here to unroot the system that the individual works for, which brings more harm than good to students of color,” wrote Yodishembo.

Langella urged the board to take up the funding of the position in current budget discussions for the upcoming fiscal year. But school board chair Lynne Jaunich said it likely won’t return to the school board’s agenda until after the budget is finalized this winter. 

Erin Gallagher is a reporter with the Community News Service, a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.