Two months ago the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Directors Unanimously voted to remove an armed school resources assistant from San Marcos High School.
Today, the council seeks to “reinvent” the role of law enforcement on campuses, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has a different idea of how to keep schools safe.
At their meeting last week, administrators discussed the School Resource Assistant program and ways to make students feel safer.
Board members haven’t voted, but it is becoming clear that they want to make a change and do something cohesive at the three public high schools in the district.
“The common goal here is student safety,” said Wendy Sims-Moten, board member. “We need to work with our first responders and build relationships with law enforcement.”
Sims-Moten said roles and expectations need to be clarified.
“School is a place for everyone to go,” said Sims-Moten. “We don’t always want to go there, but we sure don’t want it to be a place you fear going, so it’s very important to minimize that fear.”
The decision of remove the resource assistant from the San Marcos school came after a group from the San Marcos campus, Cops Off Campus! SB Student Coalition, pushed for the removal.
Many students believe that campus law enforcement is unfairly targeting students of color and other under-represented groups, and making students feel unsafe. The group wants to work with the district administration to find alternatives to agents to help provide services to students and meet their needs.
Sims-Moten and other board members stressed the importance of establishing mental health services on campuses, rather than having law enforcement.
An Armed Resources Assistant, George Hedricks, is currently assigned to Dos Pueblos High School. The position is funded by the city of Goleta. Santa Barbara high school does not have a school resources assistant.
Since the removal of the deputy for San Marcos, the school district has proposed to approve the hiring of a clinical social worker and two campus security assistant positions.
As for the future of DP and Santa Barbara High, the board is looking to make changes and establish consistency across campuses.
One idea is to increase funding for mental health counselors and assign Hedricks to high schools in Dos Pueblos and San Marcos so that the position is more of a “community resource assistant” rather than just one campus.
Sims-Moten compared the situation to triggering a fire alarm on a campus. She said when you sound the fire alarm the fire department will respond, but until then there is education and prevention on campus.
“When you see a law enforcement officer, it’s because he’s there to uphold the law, because certain behaviors have been elevated to that, but we want it to be the exception and not the rule, ”said Sims-Moten.
Deputy Chief Craig Bonner of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office spoke at the meeting and disagreed with the approach of responding after the fact.
“I really hate the idea of stepping away from community policing and moving towards an afterthought response,” Bonner said.
He said this type of approach would be “a step backwards”.
“If we get to the point where we’re treating something like a crime, we’ve kind of failed as a team, between all of us,” Bonner said. “If you ask me, the most valuable thing a school resource assistant does is to avoid things that turn into crimes, to avoid situations that get out of hand and become deadlocks.”
Bonner said there is value in campus law enforcement alongside strong mental health services.
“It shouldn’t be one situation or the other,” Bonner said.
He added that the sheriff’s office is “absolutely willing to come to the table to discuss alternative views.
He urged the board not to rush into a decision and understand that deputies are not “school safety officers” but “community policing specialists”.
“Having someone who is known to the faculty, who is known to the students, who is an expert when it comes to this form of community policing, is completely different than when you just have a generalized patrol response, when basically the ‘school asks for help and we send the first available deputy on patrol. “
Virginia Alvarez, a board member, said she wanted to see more mental health services and an increased effort to educate students about services currently available.
“One thing that comes up regularly is the need for mental health services,” Alvarez said of his conversations and meetings on the subject.