On September 12, 2022, the Board voted to add a second SROs (School Resource Officer) to Kirkwood’s elementary schools. Prior to any 2022 additions, there were SROs at the high school and each middle school, and one who rotates among the elementary schools. The administration has announced an intention to increase the number of SROs by putting one SRO full time at each elementary school (currently there is one SRO who rotates among the elementary schools).
In evaluating the proposal, I found ample recent research showing that SROs do not make elementary students safer. A 2021 study concluded “Based on available evidence… utilizing SROs will not reduce risk for school shootings and may lead to other deleterious effects.” This is consistent with a 2019 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, finding “No significant differences were observed based on the presence of resource officers.” Another 2021 study put out by the National Institutes of Health found: “controlling for … location and school characteristics, the rate of deaths was 2.83 times greater in schools with an armed guard present” [and] “An armed officer on the scene was the number one factor associated with increased casualties after the perpetrators’ use of assault rifles or submachine guns”.
Against this evidence of SRO ineffectiveness, there is the cost to the District (estimated to be $90,000 per year per SRO), and correlations between SROs and undesirable outcomes. While the District has and continues to make great strides in reducing suspensions at our elementary schools, the presence of SROs in other districts has been linked to increases in disciplinary referrals, which suggests that adding SROs will detract from the district’s ability to meet several of its strategic goals and objectives. For example, Annual Objective 2 of Priority Objective 3.2 “Reduce the number of students with multiple office disciplinary referrals by 10%”.
Other studies have found the higher disciplinary referrals fall particularly on students of color and groups already disproportionately discipled in Kirkwood and around the country.
Finally, adding SROs contributes to a disproportionate fear concerning sending students to school, which could contribute to absenteeism, decisions not to engage in early childhood education, and other choices which actually put students at greater risk of harm. Students are far safer at school than elsewhere, and I believe it is dangerous, indeed counter-productive, to not only fall victim to, but feed a mentality of fear. See: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2372966X.2020.1846458 ; https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/a01/violent-deaths-and-shootings?tid=4
For the reasons above, while I have and continue to support each of the other safety improvements identified in the administration’s proposed safety plan, I do not support adding more SROs at the elementary level and have voted against such additions.