The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) announced Friday it would be recommending the State Board of Education (SBE) approve public safety grant requests presented by six Phoenix schools, despite inaction from the district board.
“Our first responsibility is to protect the safety and the lives of students and staff. The worst tragedy would be for a maniac to invade a school and kill students with no police officer there to protect them. In addition, the police officers are there all year, befriend the students, so students view them as friends rather than as the enemy, and the police officers also teach courses,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne (R).
According to the ADE, the six grants involve requesting armed school resource officers (SROs) onto campuses. The institutions that made the requests include Cesar Chavez, Maryvale, Metro Tech, North, South Mountain, and Trevor Browne High Schools.
Back in 2020, the Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) stopped using SROs, claiming there was no evidence to prove that they were an effective use of district resources. Additionally, the board said the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd and the overall anti-law enforcement movement in 2020 played a direct role in the decision. Horne described the situation as “a group of anti-police teenagers” invading a district board meeting, to which “the board folded and got rid of their police officers.”
Since Horne took office, he has pushed schools across the state to take advantage of the ADE’s school safety grant program to put SROs on campuses that did not already have any. Additionally, he coordinated with OH Predictive Insights, now rebranded as Noble Predictive Insights (NPI), to conduct a statewide survey. This study found that 79 percent of parents within the PXU wanted to see SROs return to schools.
However, the PXU board has yet to pull the trigger on returning SROs to school campuses. As reported by AZ Family, the board held a lengthy meeting in April, discussing a potential plan to return officers to district schools. However, it ultimately put off approving any plans until at least the end of June.
The district had specific stipulations for letting SROs return, such as increased accountability measures and requiring special training. Additionally, Katie Gipson McLean, the PXU safety committee chair, said the district also has to consider costs and decide if every school would get an SRO if the program returned. In the meantime, the district will keep its current practice of hiring off-duty Phoenix police officers for emergencies and will hold public study sessions regarding the issue. A final vote on the subject is expected in June.
In response, Horne said he was disappointed that the board did not immediately move to reinstate the officer, despite the public support for them.
“The decision of the Phoenix Union governing board against armed law enforcement officers not only goes against the recommendation of their own safety committee but is a slap to the leadership of those schools and to the classroom teachers association who called for SROs because safety is needed,” Horne said.
A spokesperson for the SBE told The Arizona Sun Times via email that the ADE is responsible for bringing a complete list of approved grants to the board on May 22nd for final approval. Additionally, an ADE spokesperson told The Sun Times the department had not received any pushback from the PXU regarding its plans.
One of the most recent instances of a gun being brought to a public school occurred in Peoria on May 9th. Fox 10 reported that a firearm was discovered in the backpack fourth grader at Alta Loma Elementary, although no one was hurt during the incident. Officials say they plan on pressing charges against the minor for carrying the weapon.
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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Tom Horne” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.