North Braddock, PA – Many community members were outraged to learn that the Woodland Hills School Board unanimously voted to keep resource officers at two schools in the district on Thursday.
“We don’t want police in our schools, because our children are afraid,” East Pittsburgh resident Erica Yesko told board members before they voted, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“Our children are not in a thriving environment, because they’re so afraid of getting suspended or getting hurt by a police officer, and no one is saying anything about it,” Yesko added.
Yesko previously made the news just days ago after she and other activists demanded the East Pittsburgh city council completely dissolve the police department.
“We don’t want any more children being killed by police officers,” she said, at the time.
Last year, five former students filed a lawsuit against the district, and alleged that school officials had fostered a culture of abuse towards students.
In May, the district commissioned a panel to examine the culture and discipline practices at Woodland Hills schools.
The panel provided a list of recommendations to help prevent the “awful problems” that had occurred in the past from happening again, and even proposed the idea of eliminating SROs altogether.
School board vice president Mike Belmonte said he understood the residents’ concerns, but that they were outweighed by the “external threats to everybody” inside the school.
As part of the contract agreement, the school resource officers (SROs) will be prohibited from wearing uniforms or carrying Tasers.
They will be allowed to keep their duty weapons, and must wear khaki pants and polo shirts.
“We don’t care if police brutality is in khakis and polo shirts,” resident Darnika Reed told the board, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Reed, the parent of a high school student, also works with the Alliance for Police Accountability and the Pittsburgh Coalition to End the Deadly Exchange. She organized groups to protest the SRO issue on Aug. 15 and on Thursday.
Board member Chardae Seligsohn urged the community to trust in the new leadership of district superintendent James Harris, who was hired just last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“We are setting a new tone with this new leadership,” Seligsohn said. “This is not the same Woodland Hills it was a few weeks ago. I believe in us, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
Harris, a former military policeman, said that the community members’ concerns were “100 percent legitimate,” but that the district was working to “reboot.”
“The community has every right to be upset about what happened in the past,” he said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But [school administrators] and I are in total alignment on what we see moving forward: One, the high school discipline will be handled by the administrative staff at the high school, and not handed over to the police.”