In response to a recent joint Burbank City Council and Police Commission meeting that included a discussion about law enforcement presence in schools, the Burbank Unified School District invited Sgt. Stephen Turner to explain the roles of school resource officers in a board of education meeting on Thursday.
Turner, who works in juvenile detail for the Burbank Police Department, provided an update on the SRO program and informed the board of education that the officers respond to high-risk or criminal activity in or around schools. Most of their time is spent investigating suspected child abuse reports and performing student wellness checks. SROs are also cognizant of bullying, victimization and students with suicidal or homicidal tendencies, and work closely with staff and mental health professionals to resolve each situation.
“I want to be clear: we’re not armed sentries at every campus,” Turner said. “We wear many hats as an SRO.”
The report from Turner comes on the heels of a major decision made by the Los Angeles Unified School District. On Tuesday, the second-largest district in the country approved a plan that cuts one-third of its school officers and bans the use of pepper spray. The money saved will be diverted to funding “climate coaches” trained to deescalate conflicts and promote positive school culture.
City Council members discussed the possibility of expanding the SRO program during a meeting on Feb. 2, a move opposed by Nadra Ostrom, a BUSD parent. The local police department has two officers responsible for 22 BUSD schools and approximately 15,000 students.
“The Burbank Police Department still needs to account for past harms,” she told the board Thursday. “Right now, there are students and parents in this district who don’t trust the police. We have kids who have been traumatized by SROs and nobody is standing up for their pain or their mental health. We need to know that if a complaint is made, something will be done about it besides just being written down. We need accountability. We need a plan to figure out another way to reach out and listen to these voices.”
Superintendent Matt Hill acknowledged that the city of Burbank has to reckon with a past that “had policies and practices that have harmed our community members and our students.”
“We have worked very hard in partnership with BPD and our school district to continuously improve our SRO program,” Hill added. “We have to create additional forums and opportunities for our students and our community to express their thoughts and feedback.”
Board member Emily Weisberg wanted to be clear with the community that wanting more transparency from BPD in regard to the SRO program is not taking a stand against law enforcement.
“It’s about making sure that all of our students feel safe and protected,” she said.
Turner said he was open to communicating more with the board and the community by providing updates at future school board meetings.
UPDATE ON RENAMING MIDDLE SCHOOL, BURROUGHS MASCOT
Assistant Superintendent John Paramo informed the board that the School Facility Naming Committee is taking its next step in renaming David Starr Jordan Middle School.
The committee received 909 responses from the community and narrowed it down to five names: Mariposa, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Barbara Jordan and Dolores Huerta.
The district has been working on renaming the school for nearly two years but the process was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
David Starr Jordan — the founding president of Stanford University — was a controversial academic who advocated in favor of eugenics, a movement that set out to improve the genetic composition of humankind by way of selective breeding and is now widely viewed as racist.
Burbank native Michelle Webster asked that the board consider honoring a woman of color.
“I want all our children to know their town and their school values the achievements of more than one type of person,” she said.
In related news, John Burroughs High School associated student body now has five potential mascots to replace its longtime controversial mascot, the Indian.
ASB President Nadaly Jones — who began the process of renaming the mascot in August because she considered it to be racist and outdated — told the board that they are considering a Bear, Raven, Phoenix, Red Hawk and Blackbird.
ASB will hold a second round of voting to narrow it down to two mascots so the student body can elect one.