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In a letter to the district's superintendent, the Children’s Defense Fund Texas, Disability Rights Texas, Texas Appleseed and Texas Southern University's Earl Carl Institute said the district's police presence has resulted in excessive use of force on local campuses. It also warned that law enforcement referrals and suspensions disproportionately target students of color.
"[SAISD] is part of the whole school-to-prison pipeline — as are schools all over the country," said Robert Winterode, an attorney for Disability Rights Texas. "The district has so many minority students on its campuses, yet it's not serving their needs."
The letter comes as mass protests nationwide force cities nationwide to undertake tough discussions about the extent of police brutality in their communities.
SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said the district doesn't plan to eliminate its police department. Instead, it will work collaboratively to determine how our officers can best support the SAISD community.
The district is committed to the use of restorative justice practices and has created a special team to alleviate the need for officers to be the only members of staff who can prevent a student from harming him- or herself or others.
"The CARE team brings together experts in mental health who are skilled in responding to children in extreme crisis," Price said in a written statement. "The team then provides training and consultation post-crisis to school staff, which improves the effectiveness for the student."
SAISD's campus police came under national scrutiny in 2016 after widely shared video appeared to show one of its officers body slamming a 12-year-old girl. The officer was later fired.
In February of this year, SAISD students converged on a school board meeting to demand changes to their Student Bill of Rights, including that police step back from campus discipline.
"We would like to see the district articulate a policy for all campuses on when it's appropriate to call in police — and that should only be in rare cases," said Wintrode, who added that the groups sent similar letters to other large Texas districts.
On campuses nationwide, black students are referred for offenses such exhibition of firearms and terroristic threat at twice the rate of all other students, according the letter. Similarly, students with disabilities represent only 12% of school enrollment nationwide, yet they make up 28% of students referred to law enforcement.
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