Summit school board members push for equity focus in district’s school resource officer program
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that Summit School District is the entity that collected the survey data.
KEYSTONE — If the Summit School District Board of Education is committed to anything, it’s equity.
At a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 15, the board brought equity into nearly every conversation. The theme of equity was most prevalent during a presentation from Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, Undersheriff Peter Haynes and district Chief Operations Officer Drew Adkins about the district’s school resource officer program.
The presentation served as a way to get the board, which has five new members this year, up to speed on the benefits and impacts of the program. The board has already signed a contract to keep the program through the 2021-22 school year, President Kate Hudnut said.
The district has two school resource officers that work at Snowy Peaks High School, Summit Middle School and Summit High School. The officers have been in and out of the district for over a decade, FitzSimons said. He added that in the times when the program wasn’t at the school, the lost connection between students and the officers was felt by the community.
“We lost that tight interconnection with the kids,” he said. “By losing that tight interconnection with the kids, we lost the connection with the families. By losing the connection with the families, we lost the connection with the community as its focus on the kids and in the school environment.”
Throughout the presentation, FitzSimons talked about the value of the program for both students and officers. In addition to being a presence for crime prevention in schools, the resource officers teach classes on criminal justice and serve in a mentorship role for some of the students.
“They don’t only mentor kids, but they act as kids’ confidants. They act as family go-betweens. They intervene in these kids’ lives,” FitzSimons said.
The district surveyed over 800 students about the program. The results of that survey showed that a majority of students, 72.9%, feel the school resource officer makes them feel somewhat or much safer than if there wasn’t an officer at the school.
FitzSimons and Haynes also presented on incident numbers within the schools. While the total number of disciplinary incidents have generally decreased at each school since 2015, the number of those that included referrals to law enforcement has increased.
In the 2019-20 school year, Summit High School had 243 incidents reported to the Colorado Department of Education and 14 law enforcement referrals. The only other year since 2015 with any law enforcement referrals was 2017-18, which had two referrals, according to the presentation.
FitzSimons said many of those referrals were mental health related. Both the county and schools have seen an increase in mental health-related calls since the pandemic began.
“Last year, we started seeing a real spike in mental health calls at the school, and that would be a law enforcement referral,” he said.
Some board members questioned whether the data presented at the meeting truly reflected the feelings of the student body. The board members felt the data presented should have more information about the ethnic breakdown of the students who responded.
“It’s really great to see the students that took this survey and their appreciation in the relationship they have with the (school resource officers),” board member Chris Alleman said. “As we continue to move forward … (we need to be) looking for those ways to make those connections with everyone and find out a little bit deeper why some of these students aren’t as comfortable.”
Alleman said the district and sheriff’s office also should look into professional development programs so the officers can learn Spanish.
“Spanish is currently not mandated training, but it’s certainly available to any of my staff that wants to learn Spanish,” FitzSimons said in response to Alleman’s suggestion.
FitzSimons added that the cultural awareness training is mandated for officers by both the Summit County government and the state.
Board Vice President Tracey Carisch agreed with her colleagues that the district should collect data that is more specific to different demographics, including different ethnicities, gender identities and sexualities.
“Why is it that perhaps we’re seeing different answers coming from different ethnicities?” Carisch said. “We can’t address those relationships and make them better if we don’t have the information.”
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