Phoenix high school district debates returning police officers to its campuses

Board members of the Phoenix Union High School District are poised to make a decision over whether or not they will bring back School Resource Officers (SROs).

In 2020, officials with the school district announced that they will not re-sign an annual agreement the school district had with the City of Phoenix for SROs.

"As the district responsibly yet courageously addresses two pandemics, racism and COVID-19, [Superintendent] Dr. [Chad] Gestson said that this is the right time for PXU to revisit and even rethink school safety," read a portion of a statement released at the time.

By December 2022, however, school district officials began to reconsider their decision on SROs, and as a result, a number of listening sessions were held.

Dozens signed up to speak at board meeting

A meeting over the matter took place on April 13, and over 75 people signed up to speak.

A lot of passions were shown during the meeting, with a lot of emotional rhetoric coming in from a diverse group that includes people of all ages and trades, including parents, teachers, graduates, and current students.

Speakers in support of the return of SROs spoke about what they saw as a rise of violence on school grounds, including reported sexual assaults, drugs and weapons.

"How many acts of violence on our campus will you allow? It's deplorable!" said one speaker.

"Police are there to protect, not to scare people," said another speaker.

Meanwhile, speakers who are not supportive of returning SROs to campus described what they view as a climate of anxiety, fear, and criminalization with officers present.

"We don’t think police officers have the capacity to work with us," said Angelica Espinoza, via an interpreter. "They are typically used to dealing with criminals."

"My kids are Black, and the Phoenix Police has a long history against Black youth," said Ben Laughlin.

The meeting could continue past 11:00 p.m. on April 13.

AZ school chief weighed in

On Apr. 12, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne pushed for the Phoenix Union High School District to bring back School Resource Officers.

Superintendent Horne's comment came amid a number of school shootings, and ahead of a PXU meeting on the issue that is scheduled for Apr. 13. Officials with Horne's office touted some numbers that claim in one poll that sampled 600 parents across Arizona, 80% of those who responded said they supported SROs. Figures for a separate poll of PXU parents reportedly show they are also in favor of SROs.

"Well over 70% of Phoenix Union parents believe it’s important to have a police officer in every school," said Horne. "About 10% were undecided, and the rest were unsure."

However, a group of students and parents touring the Arizona State Capitol also came to listen in to Horne's news conference. They voiced their opinions on the issue.

"Students getting access to guns. I’m hoping we can soon get an answer to that, and find a solution to that problem," said a student, identified only as ‘Lyric.’

"I do like the idea of more counselors," said Tara Brunson of Gilbert. "I do not think having more officers on school grounds is going to solve the issue."