Supported by School Resource Officers, Providence Schools officials and representatives of local community agencies, Mayor Angel Taveras, Providence Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan F. Lusi, Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Paré, Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements and School Board President Keith Oliveira joined to mark the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding that will formalize and govern the relationship of our schools with the police officers who work within their school communities.
At the conclusion of the speaking program, held on October 15 outside Central High School, Superintendent Lusi and Chief Clements signed the MOU, making it effective immediately.
“School Resource Officers play a valuable role in our middle schools and high schools, serving as trusted advisors and role models to our students,” said Mayor Taveras. “These relationships are essential not only in keeping our students safe and setting them on the right path in school, but in building lasting bonds with our communities. This MOU formalizes that partnership and is an important component of keeping our students, our schools and our communities safer.”
The Providence Police Department employs nine School Resource Officers, fully-sworn officers whose full-time assignment is to work with and within the city’s high schools and middle schools. Seven of the eight high schools and three of seven middle schools have officers assigned to them for at least three days per week. SROs become integral members of their school communities, and are often a trusted adult and role model to the students at their school.
“We are grateful for the ongoing partnership between the Providence Police Department and Providence Public Schools. The School Resource Officer program has created lasting relationships between students and Providence Police Officers, and with this Memorandum of Agreement we are taking another step forward in this great partnership. We believe that police officers are truly effective when they are placed inside city schools to facilitate any issues that may arise, while also providing a positive role model to the students,” said Commissioner Paré.
The goal of the MOU is to foster a positive school climate by demonstrating respect for students’ rights and protecting the safety of the school environment. The MOU is in response to the realization that the school-police relationship had not been formally codified since the early days of assigning officers to schools, in the mid-1990s. As a result, School Board members and administrators had heard concerns about the equity of discipline, and the line between school action and law enforcement response.
“We are appreciative of the important role that our School Resource Officers play in our schools,” said Superintendent Lusi. “And we are committed to ensuring that they, along with our school administrators, have the same understanding of the disciplinary structure that will foster positive learning cultures and provide more equitable treatment for all students across the city. This agreement helps to make that cooperative relationship clear and constructive for all.”
The MOU states that “the vast majority of student misconduct can be best addressed through classroom and in-school strategies and by maintaining a positive climate within schools rather than through involvement of the law enforcement community.” It also calls for principals to act in loco parentis and to hold ultimate decision-making on whether legal sanctions are warranted, unless the offense is so extreme such that immediate arrest is appropriate.
Further, it frames the selection and training of SROs, outlining the critical traits of cultural competency, non-violence training, conflict resolution skills, knowledge of Juvenile Code and Juvenile Court procedures, ability to collaborate with school staff in the support and execution of non-punitive dispute resolution, positive behavior programs, and school-based diversion programs, and knowledge of community resources to assist students.
The agreement is one step within a greater effort by the district to re-examine its Student Code of Conduct as a whole, involving a task force and subgroups comprising dozens of community members to draft a significant revision to current Board policy. The draft policy is expected to be presented to the Board in committee this month, with passage expected by the end of 2014.
“The Providence School Board’s commitment is to educating children, and to creating safe, caring and orderly schools,” said Oliveira. “We will continue to listen to and work with our community to ensure that all adults in our schools are working together to create a healthy culture and climate for all students.”