Student calls on Durham schools to defund school resource officers in favor of mental health programs

Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Student calls on Durham schools to defund school resource officers in favor of mental health programs
Student calls on Durham schools to defund school resource officers in favor of mental health programs

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- As the cries grow louder for more police accountability, one Durham teen is taking that same message to the classroom.

"We are asking for a complete end of relationship and remove SROs (Student Resource Officers) from schools," Aissa Dearing said.

The measure, reads radical but Aissa Dearing said it deserves attention. Dearing sent ABC11 a copy of the letter she emailed to Durham Public School leaders. In it, Dearing requests leaders cut ties with the Durham County Sheriff's Office and reallocate the funds spent on officers elsewhere.

"We're asking for more school nurses, child psychologists, more substance abuse specialists, career counselors and guidance counselors so we can have a better transition to college. Rather than allocating those resources to SROs," Dearing said.

For Dearing, it's deeper than George Floyd-the J.D Clement Early College graduate has been calling for SRO reform since last year. She even held a forum to discuss safety and policing in schools.

"We asked for more transparency accountability and oversight and unfortunately we didn't get any of those demands," Dearing explained.

An Instagram petition already has more than 3,000 comments and pledges of support. She even received a supportive message from school board member Minnie Forte Brown-vowing to hear her out. But like any proposal for change, Dearing has also received push back.

"A lot of students and teachers have asked me what (happens) in the event of a mass causality situation?"

Dearing said her solution solves that particular problem at the root, before it grows to the surface.

"The active shooter is more likely to be in that school, so if we take preventive measures and more mental health resources for that student we can prevent active shooter situation to begin with," said Dearing.

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Bottom line-Dearing believes dismantling systemic racism matters just as much in schools as it does in the streets.

"Statistics that say 12% of school base offenses are sent to Juvie and 85% of those students are African American. So in this school district that's majority non-white, we are still feeling the effects of white supremacy."

ABC11 received this statement from Durham Public Schools:

"We are proud of the relationship we have fostered with the Durham County Office of the Sheriff and our School Resource Officers. Our Memorandum of Understanding is intentional about breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, drawing a line between our schools leaders' responsibility for discipline and our SROs' responsibility for safety, security, and support.

In light of recent nationwide events of racism and overreach in law enforcement, we understand the concerns that have been expressed by some of our students and community. We are aware of the Youth Justice Project's call to conduct a thorough Impact Assessment of our SRO program by the end of the 2020-21 school year and we are open to that. We would also be happy to participate in a community forum to learn from our stakeholders and develop solutions to ensure the safety and security of our students. Transparency is essential to building trust in our community."

As for Dearing she plans to speak at the next board meeting. She's also planning her own march entitled "Black Students Matter." The rally is set for Saturday, June 13.