Texas tragedy colors local conversation around police in schools


URBANA — The response by police to a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has brought a national spotlight to the relationship between law enforcement and schools.

Steven C. McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Friday that it was the “wrong decision” for police, believing “no kids were at risk,” to wait more than an hour to enter the classrooms in which 19 children and two teachers were shot to death.

The tragedy and conversation strikes at a peculiar time for Champaign and Urbana, where the boards of both cities’ public school districts have recently voted to continue their school resource officer programs.

After a debate Thursday night, both Democratic candidates for Illinois’ 13th Congressional District offered their thoughts on police presence in schools and the shooting, which happened just two days earlier.

“I think school resource officers have a place, but I think we need to examine what that looks like after the allegations in Uvalde,” said David Palmer of Champaign. “If the rhetoric is that a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun, well there is no more of a good guy than a police officer, is what we’re told. If school resource officers can’t meet that moment, maybe we need to examine what that looks like.

“Now I do support school resource officers in our community, because (they’re) not specifically for that reason. I think they’re more about building camaraderie and understanding the kids of our community. But we do need to address the safety component, about, are school resource officers the ones to stop mass shootings or not? Because parents are having a real dilemma with that.”

His opponent in the June 28 primary, Nikki Budzinski of Springfield, cautioned against reactionary, firearm-first responses in the wake of the mass shooting.

“I think that we need to be very careful about saying the answer to this is a Ted Cruz solution, which is give teachers guns or let’s put more guns in the school,” she said, referring the Republican Texas senator. “I think what we should be doing is partnering with law enforcement on ways that they can be supportive of the school, what makes the most sense for the local school district. But I would ultimately leave that decision up to the professionals at the school district and the parents themselves to decide — that’s not for me.”

During the debate hosted by Illini Public Media, Budzinski applauded Champaign for its use of federal coronavirus-relief funds in its $6.2 million Gun Violence Prevention Blueprint unveiled late last year.

In Urbana, the school board narrowly voted to renew the contracts of its two school resource officers for the next three years, but the agreement must still be approved by the city council, as the new terms call for the city to foot 25 percent of the bill.

The district, which picked up the full price of the previous three-year contract, expects the first year of the new one to cost $270,000.

Mayor Diane Marlin said the council is expected to vote on renewing the contract for the officers — one each in the high school and middle school — by June 21.

The Champaign school board voted 6-1 in April to renew its school resource officer program at a cost of no more than $350,000 for the next school year, if police staffing levels permit.

via The News-Gazette

May 29, 2022 at 08:19AM

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