How Winooski schools will retain its resource officer but make concessions to student activists

The Winooski School District and board have decided to retain the district’s school resource officer from the city’s police department this school year. 

The announcement came this week amid a greater community and national conversation as to whether police officers should be in schools. A student group called Winooski Students for Antiracism issued a list of demands to the district and board, including replacing a police officer in the schools with two trauma specialists trained in restorative justice.

The budget for the district had already been decided for the 2020-21 school year, so the district decided to continue with the plan it had in place. 

Winooski officials prep Black Lives Matter flag-raising at Rotary Park on August 8, 2020. Through local campaign Winooski Strong, 61 city businesses and organizations showed their solidarity toward fundraising and supporting anti-racism work in the city.

While the school resource officer, Jason Ziter, returns to the school district this week, the board and district have said they are interested in gaining more feedback from the community before making any further decisions on whether to keep or eliminate the position, a news release stated.

The school resource officer position is also planned to be studied in Burlington by a task force of community members and school district officials, the Burlington School District announced earlier this week.

School resource officer will still be armed

Winooski Students for Antiracism said that because the budget for the year had already been decided, they would accept having a school resource officer this year, on the following conditions: 

  • The officer wear civilian clothing. 
  • The officer isn’t armed. 
  • The officer doesn’t park his police cruiser in front of the building while at the school.
  • A report is issued for every incident in which the officer must respond. 
Construction is underway at the north and eastern parts of Winooski Schools on Aug. 5, 2020. The work is part of a two-year, $57.8 million upgrade to the school campus.

The school district said that the officer will be wearing a soft uniform, which includes khaki pants and a polo shirt with the police department’s insignia. The officer will also remain armed, per a Winooski Police Department general order “which states that the SRO is an active duty police officer while serving the school district,” according to a news release.

Related:BLM flag raising marks launch of Winooski anti-racism campaign; effort has raised over $15k

What’s next?

Winooski’s School Board members said during a recent meeting that they would like solicit feedback from the community on the school resource officer position before making a final decision. 

Snapshot of the Winooski School Board virtual meeting on July 15, 2020. Organizers of the Winooski Students for Anti-Racism shared testimonials detailing their experiences of racial bias within the school system.

The board plans to lead a public education and engagement process in the coming months to discuss the future of safety and security within the Winooski School District, according to a news release. This will help in making a decision on that position in advance of budgeting for the 2021-2022 school year.

A third-party facilitator will lead the conversation, according to the district. Also, members of Winooski Students for Antiracism, the city and the district will participate in designing and implementing this process. 

Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-651-4835 or emurray@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.

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