Less than two weeks after a D.C. Council vote solidified the gradual removal of police officers from school buildings, a group of men entered Bard High School Early College DC in Southeast and physically assaulted a male student.
The group eventually left school grounds but not before a mob of students fought them in the absence of security guards and teachers who stayed in their classrooms out of fear for their lives.
Days later, one student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, remained frustrated about what they described as the constant flow of blood in the halls, malfunctioning cameras and a lack of concern about student wellbeing.
Even so, they stopped short of supporting the constant presence of school resource officers – on-duty District police officers who assist with campus security. They instead called for camera repairs, locked doors and a more effective security plan.
“Police officers can break up fights but some take it too far by using mace on everyone and using excessive force,” the student said. “We just need about one or two to check on us but we don’t need anyone to stay with us.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FY 2023 budget proposal included a provision reversing a unanimous D.C. Council vote made in 2020 that phases school resource officers out of District public schools within four years. In the days preceding the council vote on this matter, D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson (D) expressed agreement with Bowser’s plan. .
However on May 10, the D.C. Council approved, in an 8 to 5 vote, an amendment introduced by D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen to keep the original vote in place. Mendelson and D.C. Councilmembers Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) voted in opposition.
Trayon White, a mayoral candidate, cited the stabbing death of Kemon Payne, a Ward 8 resident, in front of KIPP College Preparatory in Northeast last fall. Cheh called for a transition plan that prevented what she described as a vacuum in safety measures.
Meanwhile, D.C. Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Elissa Silverman (I-At large), and Robert White (D-At large), who’s also running for D.C. mayor, evoked support for the amendment, arguing that police officers in schools didn’t prove effective in solving problems that often start in the community.
On Saturday, Bowser spoke to Deanwood residents who converged on the field at IDEA Public Charter School in Northeast during Deanwood Day. She said their stories, particularly that of the youth, further highlighted the need for keeping uniformed police officers in District schools.
“I know for sure we need the appropriate security and administrators need to know who they can rely on who have relationships with the children,” Bowser said. “It’s a difficult time for children [because] they’re coming back and getting reacclimated to school. I hope the council will reverse the bad decision and make sure parents are confident about sending their children to school.”
Nearly two years after George Floyd’s murder led to a wave of progressive legislation, policing remains a polarizing issue amid an uptick in violence. As of May 20, the District has experienced 74 homicides this year. Instances of violent crime recorded by the Metropolitan Police Department have increased by 18% from the previous year.
A DC Public Schools administrator who requested anonymity said the D.C. Council’s policies don’t reflect the experiences of children attending schools in the eastern part of the District. The administrator went on to add that school resource officers haven’t done little more than compile reports about incidents that have occurred on school grounds.
Though they acknowledged the anxiety people have about police officers in schools, the administrator said students and teachers deserve an immediate response when their safety is threatened.
“Folks are trying to create these pseudo-realities. If we’re not hellbent on changing [our communities] then we have to prepare children to accept authority,” the administrator said. “Otherwise, we’re training them to be on the news. There has to be a relationship between police officers and students. If school resource officers are in the building, they need to be immersed [in the environment] so students don’t see them as a threat.”