The ACLU has long opposed the introduction of law enforcement personnel in the form of School Resource Officers (SROs) to school campuses in Rhode Island, as the presence of such personnel can inappropriately redefine normal adolescent behaviors into issues of criminal justice. Currently, Rhode Island provides for the partial reimbursement of salaries of newly hired SROs, but this provision is set to expire in July of 2022. Two pieces of legislation would have addressed the presence of SRO’s on campuses – one positively, and one negatively.
H 6029 would appropriately have removed the statutory language surrounding the reimbursement of SROs and would instead allocate $2,000,000 for the hiring of school social workers. Especially for students and adolescents, the most needed personnel are those with a professional and comprehensive understanding of mental and behavioral health such as social workers or counseling personnel - not police.
However, H 5367 would have indefinitely extended the reimbursement structure currently in place for SROs, incentivizing schools to continue to hire personnel who are not adequately trained in youth mental and behavioral health, such as SROs. We opposed this legislation, noting that the students more disproportionately impacted by police practices and SRO presence are BIPOC students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students.
Both pieces of legislation ultimately died in committee.