Burlington School Board Eliminates Full-Time Police Position

The+escalators+at+dtBHS.+Photo%3A+Courtesy+BHS+Website

The escalators at dtBHS. Photo: Courtesy BHS Website

Anna Huener, Staff Writer

On April 6, 2021, the Burlington School Board voted unanimously in favor of the Safety Task Force’s SRO recommendation, with one member abstaining. The task force proposal states that they were “charged with ending the full-time use of the SRO.”  Although the approval by the board means various changes will be made throughout the district, limiting the power of Student Resource Officers (SROs) is the most notable recommendation. 

“Therefore, the task force recommends the elimination of one SRO position, as well as limiting the scope of the single SRO to the following: i. The SRO is housed at the BPD and not present in the schools unless responding to an emergency or conducting a scheduled visit (by appointment),” the proposal states.

30 years ago, BHS introduced the position of the Student Resource Officer (SRO) to protect students in the wake of recent shootings in the United States. The position has evolved to better respond to the needs of BHS. This year, as BHS inhabits a new location, the position has changed once again. 

Mike Henry, hired in 2020, is the current SRO at BHS. Henry, an officer of 19 years, started at the UVM police department and has since worked at South Burlington and Burlington police departments. He is one of two police officers currently employed in the Burlington School District.

We’re not here to, you know, traumatize. We’re here to help you. It’s probably the best community policing that we can do.”

— Mike Henry, BHS SRO

At BHS, Henry’s responsibilities include monitoring halls, entrances, and exits, and being a “professional security presence.”

“The job of the SRO at BHS is to provide consultant safety,” Henry said.  “We’re more central downtown, which exposes students to a lot more incidents that could happen.” 

DtBHS is located on Cherry Street in Burlington–only blocks from Burlington’s Church Street and downtown.

“I mean, really, the role hasn’t really changed,” Henry said. “We’re just more vigilant here because of the opportunities that are presented based on the location of the school.”

The new dtBHS building, located in Burlington’s old Macy’s building, also requires new levels of security. Prior to the move, Interim Principal Lauren Mcbride said the SROs were integral to assessing safety and logistics.

“We’ve walked through the space with [the SROs] about three or four times, and they’ve helped us to identify where our camera system should be going in,” McBride said. “They’ve been really influential in helping us to think through those evacuation procedures and then also just safety precautions.”

While security and patrolling remains much the same, some of the positive social aspects of the SRO position have been lost.

“Covid has really limited our ability to get into classes, and there are not a lot of students out in the hallways anymore,” Henry said. “Eating lunch, usually, I’d eat lunch with kids, or the students, so that way, they would get to see me. In the hallways, I talked to them, but we haven’t done [that] this year.”

In addition to the social limitations of the pandemic, Henry acknowledged that opposition to law enforcement had been challenging.

“We’re not here to, you know, traumatize,” Henry said. “We’re here to help you. It’s probably the best community policing that we can do.”

In Spring of 2020, the national Black Lives Matter movement caused many Americans to reevaluate the place of policing in schools, hence the local initiative to create a Safety Task Force for the Burlington School District. 

I think that if we have the power to remove something that causes trauma, even just the sight of the uniform or the car, If we have the power to remove something that causes trauma, we should.”

— Autumn Bangoura, Equity Instructional Leader

In June of 2020, the district published a statement encouraging school board representatives, students, and community members to apply to the Safety Task Force, with the intention of gaining community insight on the SRO position and forming a proposal. 

“The Safety Task Force involves people from the community and anyone that’s invested,” Equity Instructional Leader Autumn Bangoura said. “They are all brainstorming: what alternatives are to SROs and what’s going to happen in their absence?”

The two SRO positions, currently funded by the Burlington Police Department, will terminate in June 2021. The Burlington School Board came to this decision in June of 2020.

What will happen next was up to the district’s Safety Task Force. The group of nine, led by Henri Sparks, Director of Diversity and Equity, was established and met throughout the Fall semester of 2020. The group met weekly for six months, researching, brainstorming, and creating new policy.

The Safety Task Force presented this proposal to the school board and Superintendent Flanagan on February 15. Last Tuesday, April 1, the proposal was approved by Superintendent Flanagan. On April 6, the proposal was officially approved by the Burlington School Board.

After months of discussion and research, this signifies a step forward for Equity in Burlington Schools. Bangoura spoke to the district’s ongoing effort to improve the district for all students.

“I think that if we have the power to remove something that causes trauma, even just the sight of the uniform or the car,” Bangoura said. “If we have the power to remove something that causes trauma, we should.”