Update: Austin ISD responds to advocacy groups asking for divestment from district police department

An Austin ISD Police Department officer walks that halls of Northeast Early College High School. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
An Austin ISD Police Department officer walks that halls of Northeast Early College High School. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)

An Austin ISD Police Department officer walks that halls of Northeast Early College High School. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add a statement by Austin ISD about school policing.

Four social justice advocacy groups have formally asked Austin ISD to divest from its district police force and to “take a stand against school policing."

The joint letter, penned by the Children’s Defense Fund Texas, School-to-Prison Pipeline Project, Disability Rights Texas and The Earl Carl Institute at Texas Southern University, was sent to AISD and posted online June 9.

According to the group, student resource officers “specifically harm certain student demographics like students of color and students with disabilities." The group further stated that officers do not directly improve the safety of a campus.

“Students of color, particularly Black and Hispanic students, are overrepresented in law enforcement referrals for offenses,” the letter states. “In fact, Black students are referred for offenses like exhibition of firearms and terroristic threat at twice the rate of all other students. Students with disabilities represent only 12% of student enrollment nationwide yet disproportionately make up 28% of students referred to law enforcement.”

According to the letter, divesting in police would both better protect students and save monetary resources. Those savings could be used hire additional mental health counselors and social workers who can improve interactions with students struggling from mental health-related issues and can help schools respond to nonviolent incidents, the letter states.

In a June 10 statement, AISD said that school policing was an important issue that the district is taking seriously.

“We are committed—at every level and in every office—to providing a safe, welcoming school environment for our students," the statement read. "Our officers are an integral part of the school communities they serve. They operate as both support for students and staff and as public safety officials, allowing teachers and administrators to maintain their focus on educating our students. By employing officers dedicated solely to our schools, we have been able to collaborate and form partnerships with our students and our community. We recognize, however, that not all students have the same experiences with law enforcement and we will continue to evaluate and adjust our practices. COVID-19 has already changed so much about the way we operate. The recent marches and protests related to municipal police departments have reminded us of another area we can examine and improve. We will review and discuss with our teams how we and our officers can best continue to serve AISD students."

By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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