Parents concerned with recommendation to increase law officers in Chesterfield schools

CHESTERFIELD, Va. -- The Chesterfield County School district held a School Safety Task Force meeting Wednesday morning to discuss ways to keep students safe while in school.

Safety Task Force members presented several recommendations to the board. One of those involved increasing the number of law enforcement officers -- also known as school resource officers -- in schools.

Several parents said they believed increasing the number of law enforcement officers in school may do more harm than good -- especially for children in minority groups.

"This plan will only fan the flames of hate and discrimination and perpetuate the lie that violence could stop violence," said Jackie Ruiz, a parent who took the stand. "The data clearly shows that children of color are disproportionately targeted by police. I cannot in good conscience enroll my brown children in a school system that is not as safe as her white classmates because of the color of her skin."

Dr. John B. Gordon III, chief of schools, said school resource officers would not be there to discipline students but to enforce the law.

"A school resource officer is an officer of the law. So they must make sure they enforce those laws as they see fit," said Gordon.

Chief of Police Jeffrey Katz had some concerns with making an increase of police in schools a priority.

"I’m concerned that the very first thing that we look at is putting more police in school because it lets us off the hook of the adaptive problem of the underlying issues," said Chief Katz. "We should not use our consequences as the first step in achieving school safety."

"Putting more police in school is not the answer," Chief Katz added.

One student spoke about some of the underlying issues they face on a day-to-day basis.

"As a student, I am well aware that there is a culture of stress in our schools. There is a culture of students not feeling like they’re good enough."

Parents like Jackie Ruiz said they want the board to focus on addressing mental health issues to tackle those underlying issues. And funding for additional mental health staffing was, in fact, another highly ranked recommendation by the Safety Task Force.

The final report for the School Safety Task Force will be presented to the school board on December 11.