One of Georgia’s largest school systems plans to end its school security contract with the Atlanta police department and form its own security team that is “aligned with its social-emotional learning approach,” the district has announced.
The Atlanta district is moving ahead with the plan despite warnings from the city Mayor Kasim Reed that the move could have “catastrophic consequences” for children.
The school system is taking steps to form its own police force and to replace the city police officers currently patrolling schools with officers directly accountable to the district.
In a letter sent Feb. 22, the district’s operations chief, Larry Hoskins, notified the city that Atlanta schools would terminate the contract effective June 30.
Reed said recently that the school system’s decision to end its contract with the city police department was “beyond” him.
“Everyone knows APS is independent. They’re expressing their independence. But I think they’re going to make the children of the Atlanta school system far less safe,” Reed said.
District officials suggested earlier this year that the in-house department could cost more than the district’s annual $5.6 million contract with the city, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. But district spokeswoman Jill Strickland said last week that the new department would not actually cost more, and it was unclear why the cost estimates changed, the newspaper reported.
On its website, the district announced plans to hire 55 school resource officers as well as a chief of police, a compliance officer, and a number of other ranking officers, with a new force expected to be in place at the start of the new school year in August. The district’s move comes as schools around the country are re-evaluating the relationships between police and their schools.
Some larger districts prefer to run their own police forces, saying that such an arrangement gives them more oversight over how officers and resources are used in their schools. Many large districts, including Los Angeles, have independent police forces.
Video Captures Incidents
School-based officers have faced additional scrutiny recently after videos of incidents of harsh student treatment by school officers surfaced on social media. In Baltimore, which has a district-run force, two officers face criminal charges after one of them was captured recently on video slapping and kicking a teenage boy outside a school. A video last year of a sheriff’s deputy violently removing a South Carolina teenager from her desk sparked a state-run task force to re-examine school discipline and a move by some lawmakers to rethink the causes for student arrests.
Civil rights advocates have used both incidents to call for more sweeping changes, including fewer police in schools and more oversight over how officers interact with students.
In a 2014 civil rights guidance on school discipline, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education put districts on notice that they are responsible for ensuring that officers in their schools respect the rights of their students, whether or not they are employed by an outside force.
Atlanta police spokeswoman Elizabeth Espy said in a statement that the department will work with the school system to make sure the change is a smooth one, The Journal-Constitution reported.
“The Atlanta police department’s priority is to protect city residents and visitors, which includes students in the Atlanta public schools,” Espy said. “We will work with APS to ensure a smooth transition so that student safety continues to be our focus, regardless of our physical presence in the schools.”
Staff Writer Evie Blad contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2016 edition of Education Week as Amid Scrutiny of School-Based Officers, Atlanta to Hire Own Force