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Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on March 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 1

Community debates school resource officers in wake of Parkland shooting

By KASEY BUBNASH

For two decades a school resource deputy roamed the halls of San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara. But just before the start of this school year, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors announced it could no longer fund the position, leaving San Marcos without the constant law enforcement presence available at every other high school in the Santa Barbara Unified School District and most other high schools in the county.

The sudden lack of a school resource deputy or officer—a sworn law enforcement official employed by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office or city police department to provide security on select school grounds—bothered some parents and faculty members, according to Lauren Bianchi Klemann, public information officer for the Santa Barbara Unified School District.


SYMBOLIC SUPPORT
Angie Ho, a 17-year-old senior at Ernest Righetti High School, helped organize a student walkout in support of the Parkland, Florida, shooting survivors.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGIE HO

The issue became more pressing after several students at Santa Barbara County schools made violent threats directly following a recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 individuals were shot and killed on Feb. 14.

One parent, Nancy Sheldon, submitted a petition in support of reinstating the resource deputy position at San Marcos High School to the Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 27 meeting. School resource deputies can help deter crime and mass violence on school grounds by gaining trust and identifying risky behavior, Sheldon said at the meeting. Her petition included more than 1,200 signatures of support.

But not everyone agrees.

“The two most important things we need to do to prevent school shootings are serious gun reform and improvements in mental health,” said Abraham Melendrez, organizer for the Santa Maria chapter of the Central Coast Alliance United for A Stable Economy (CAUSE).

CAUSE, a social justice advocacy organization, has been highly involved in past issues regarding Santa Maria’s youth.

“Unfortunately,” Melendrez said in an email to the Sun, “the high security proposals to bring more guns, police, and metal detectors on campus make schools feel like prisons and actually harm the mental health of students.”

The number of school resource deputies and officers increased “dramatically” after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Melendrez said, and while resources officers are charged with improving relations between students and law enforcement, implicit bias often leads to the opposite impact.

A study published in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showed that while black students represented 16 percent of student enrollment from 2011 to 2012, they represented 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrests. In comparison, white students represented 51 percent of enrollment and 39 percent of those arrested.

Still, officials at the Lompoc Unified School District, Santa Barbara High School District, and Santa Maria Joint Union High School District swear by their resource officers and deputies.

But Angie Ho, a 17-year-old senior at Ernest Righetti High School, which has one resource deputy on campus, said the law enforcement presence at her school makes some students uncomfortable. That is especially true for minority students, she said, who often feel targeted by law enforcement officials.

Upping school security and arming teachers, Ho said, would only make matters worse.

“To make it simple,” Ho said in an interview, “I don’t think adding more guns to the equation is the right way to solve the issue.”

Ho said she hopes lawmakers will hear the cries of Parkland shooting survivors, who have overwhelmingly called for gun and mental health policy reforms. To show those faraway students her support, Ho said she helped organize an upcoming student walkout for March 14, during which students at several Santa Maria high schools will leave class for 17 minutes, one minute for every life lost in Parkland.

“As a nation,” Ho said, “we need to forget about the political climate and enact nationwide, preventive measures.” 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at mail@santamariasun.com.




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