Phoenix AZ July 8 2020
Following student-led protests and petitions, police officers will no longer be assigned to schools in the Phoenix Union High School District, the district announced on Tuesday.
The district will not renew its agreement with the city of Phoenix for on-campus police officers, known as school resource officers, according to a district press release. Instead, Phoenix Union will invest $1.2 million in an initiative to include more parent and student voices in budgeting.
“We are putting real money into the hands of real people, our people, and giving them power,” Chad Gestson, district superintendent, said.
The district, in its release also cited possible campus closures and more remote learning in the next school year due to the pandemic, as a reason for why officers aren’t needed on campus.
“It is very likely that we will spend weeks, if not months, in full distance or remote learning in the next school year,” Gestson said in a video accompanying the release.
The decision comes after students with the Puente Youth Movement protested against police officers on Phoenix Union campuses, marching in a large crowd down Central Avenue to the district office in June. The protests were a part of a larger movement against systemic racism and police brutality.
The students also petitioned against officers on campus, with one petition garnering nearly 4,000 signatures. Abia Khan, a recent graduate of North High School, put together the petition.
“I think our students are just going to feel so much safer, especially our undocumented students, our students of color,” she said shortly after learning of the district’s decision.
Students protest on-campus police officers in front of the Phoenix Union High School District office.
The district’s press release adds that it still will use off-duty law enforcement as needed for “community safety needs,” but officers will be assigned to the district, not to individual schools as in the past.
Phoenix Union’s school board first debated ending its contract with the city for officers in early June, as student calls for ending the contract escalated.
Students have said the officers foster fear, particularly for black students, in an environment that’s supposed to be safe for children.
Local students with March for Our Lives AZ have also pushed for the past two years to focus funding on more counselors in schools instead of police officers.
Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature have increased funding, but allowed schools to decide whether they wanted to use the funds for counselors or officers. Schools requested more money for counselors than officers.
In October, an officer used pepper spray at a Phoenix middle school. Puente Human Rights Movement organizers said the officer sprayed two dozen students with no warning and, in a separate incident, handcuffed an 11-year-old.
Phoenix Union’s school board will discuss next steps on July 17 during a school board meeting.