Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pencils, Paper & Pepper Spray

Yesterday when I picked Justice & Chuli up from school, we walked passed the uniformed Police Officer who is assigned to their school. I have been seeing him around campus in the afternoons and Chuli came home with those SFPD stickers the cops always give out to little kids so I have had the suspicion that Officer Brooks (whose name I learned when Justice high-fived & called him by name as we were leaving) is a permanent fixture at the girl's school. I know that the SFUSD has full fledged SFPD officers assigned to and present in schools (including some of those I attended), but I have only witnessed them inside of high schools and wasn't fully prepared for my own kids to experience this phenomenon as a Kindergartner and 5th grader. Now that their school (Buena Vista) has merged with Horace Mann Middle School to form a K-8 school, there are definitely older kids around and I guess that means tougher security is necessary (???). Now, just to be clear, this is an actual uniformed SFPD Police Officer with a gun, a badge, a baton and some pepper spray, not just a school security guard who are armed only with a walkie-talkie and their street-smarts. The police department calls them SROs (school resource officers) and this is how they are described on the SFPD website:
School Resource Officers of the SFPD are dedicated to working with the SFUSD to ensure a safer learning environment, provide valuable resources to school staff, teachers and youth to prevent and solve problems within the school and community and foster positive relationships between youth and police officers. 
SRO's are community police officers within specific schools who work to build trusting relationships with youth, school staff and the community to create safer schools.
 SRO Benefits include: Improved relationships with youth, parents, staff and community, Safer schools, Better collaboration and communication among law enforcement, students and staff, Positive access to youth in the role of a mentor, Enhanced learning environment, using law related educational curriculum
They go on to state that: "SROs have a profound impact on youth and their schools" because they: Provide home visits, Provide truancy prevention & intervention, Provide classroom safety education presentation, Provide support to students, Provide substance abuse and violence prevention education, Provide school site security survey, Refer students and families to community resources, Conduct professional development presentations for faculty and staff, Counsel students and facilitate conflict mediation, Participate in Student Assistance Program (SAP) meetings, Support counseling staff, Attend field trips
And they even provide this nifty little image to show how nice it is to have police around our kids:
Now, this all sounds nice & sweet and I'm all for having police officers take a pro-active involvement in their communities BUT I can't get pass the fact that there is a man with a gun and pepper spray walking around my daughters' school!!! 
Maybe I am being naive, but what danger is threatening my daughters as they sit in their brightly decorated classrooms learning el alphabeto and square roots? I know that our public school system is down and out but has it really gotten this bad? I don't even understand if his gun & pepper spray is supposed to keep the students protected from the neighborhood or the neighborhood protected from the students??? 
I realize that the reality of Officer Brooks' day does not consist of pulling out his weapon and handcuffing 3rd graders in the hallways and that he mostly spends his time shooing cars out of the school bus loading zone and making sure the 8th graders aren't trying to cut class, but his mere presence, dressed in that blue uniform with his holster around his waist, sends a very powerful message. I can't even imagine how Chuli's 5 year old little brain processes the site of him in her school. She knows enough to know that guns are used to shoot people and that police arrest people and send them to jail so, does she interpret his presence as meaning that there are people at her school that might need to be shot or go to jail? Is she now going to feel like her school is a dangerous place and if so, how can she feel comfortable learning, trying new things and especially making mistakes in such an environment?  I guess having an Officer patrolling my kids' school is supposed to make me feel safer but I think it is beginning to have the exact opposite effect.
I'm pretty sure that I am not ignorant to the dangers in our city and in our neighborhood and I know that my kids will probably experience a few of their own hard knocks as they grow up here but I cannot yet resign myself to believing that my kids need armored protection to be able to receive their education.  Police are a vital part of our society but not our schools.  If I am truly wrong about that then we are all in a much hotter mess than I can pretend to know what to do with...