SRO policy discussion put on hold
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Immigrant rights activists seeking a Roaring Fork School District Re-1 policy prohibiting school resource officers from working directly with federal immigration enforcement agents will have to wait.
Alex Alvarado of Carbondale, representing the student group Association of Youth United in Action (AJUA in Spanish), asked the school board Thursday to formally take up the group’s proposal at the next school board meeting, scheduled for Nov. 9.
“We would like to present our policy proposal to you at that time,” Alvarado said of the request by AJUA and its partner organization, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC).
But the school board, which received legal advice on the matter during an executive session to start the Thursday morning meeting, wants the groups to first talk to area police chiefs before coming to the school board with a policy proposal.
Re-1 financially supports the school resource officer, or SRO programs, in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. However, the officers work for the local police departments and are not employees of the school district, school board president Bob Johnson emphasized.
“You need to bring the police chiefs to the table in this discussion,” he said, suggesting a meeting with the area police chiefs, and possibly U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as well, before approaching the school board.
The groups assert that collaboration between local police, and specifically officers working as SROs with ICE’s inter-agency Operation Community Shield anti-gang task force, has crossed the line into areas of immigration enforcement.
That has had a chilling effect among immigrant students and their families in local schools, especially Carbondale, the groups say.
“Our underlying interest in this matter is to ensure a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment in our public schools, so that all students, parents and families can achieve educational excellence,” CIRC and AJUA said in a recent joint statement expressing their concerns.
“We believe that any presence, or perceived presence, of immigration enforcement agents within public schools can create an unsafe and unwelcoming educational environment,” the statement read.
Federal law prohibits schools from denying public education to any student based on immigration status.
Police chiefs from Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Basalt, in a joint press conference earlier this month, defended the SRO’s involvement in the anti-gang task force.
“Nothing in their work is aimed at immigration … never has been, never will be,” Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said during the Oct. 10 press conference. “That is way beyond the scope of this program.”
The groups have suggested that SROs, rather than working with ICE, adopt the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program as a way to curb gang activity in schools.
Police officers should also be exempt from an SRO assignment for at least three years after having worked in any capacity with ICE, the groups also propose.
Re-1 board members, at a meeting last month, indicated they would be willing to consider a policy related to the SROs.
In the meantime, Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said she has met with area law enforcement officials, as well as superintendents from other area school districts, to research the issue.
“We have spoken with several other school districts to find out what other policies or agreements are out there,” she said.
Some, such as the Garfield School District Re-2 in Rifle, have a memorandum of understanding with local police departments regarding SROs, she said. However, none specifically address the concerns being brought up by AJUA and CIRC.
In the case of Re-2’s agreement, “There is an expectation that they collaborate with other police officers and other law enforcement,” Haptonstall said after the Thursday meeting.
“These people are police officers first, and SROs second,” she said.
When the issue does come before the Re-1 school board, there will likely be at least two, and possibly three, new board members considering the issue. Three school board seats are up for election in the Nov. 1 mail ballot election.
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