The district formed a police procedures committee last summer and hosted a work session in November with members of advocacy groups such as One Houston and Disability Rights Texas. After the HISD board adopted the district’s 2021-22 budget at a June 10 meeting, Trustee Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who chairs the police committee, said some police procedures had been revised, including that all officers are now wearing body cameras.
However, Ashton Millet, an organizer with One Houston, said there has been little transparency in what has changed, and more systemic changes are still needed.
“Small procedural changes do not address the structural changes needed to make students feel safer in today’s HISD schools,” he said.
The coalition of advocacy groups, of which One Houston is part, has called for four key changes that would prohibit police from pepper-spraying students, using zip ties on students as handcuffs, arresting students on campus for nonviolent offenses, and questioning students about alleged crimes without a parent or guardian present.
“Changing policies to end the use of force and pepper spray puts a higher focus on [social-emotional learning] and restorative discipline practices, which benefit the whole student,” Millet said.
At the June school board meeting, Blueford-Daniels clarified officers do not use pepper spray, instead using a gel she said allows them to be more direct in use. She also emphasized the important role police serve for HISD. On June 9, officers responded quickly to an incident at North Forest High School when a student was shot in the hand by a driver who fled the area.
“As a parent and a grandparent, I would rather wash pepper spray out of my child’s eye than go to the cemetery,” she said.
Other HISD board members have spoken publicly about the need to take a closer look at policing. At the November workshop, HISD Police Chief Pete Lopez said his priorities include reducing the number of arrests and implementing programs that provide decision-making skills to students. The fight for reform will carry on into the new school year, Millet said.
“Overall, we look forward to working with the next administration and the board to implement policies to reduce police practices that physically and mentally harm students,” he said.