Arizona Superintendent Will Block Grants for Schools Lacking Police Presence
By Corinne Murdock |
Public schools who refuse to have armed officers on campus won’t receive grant money for school safety.
In a press release last Wednesday announcing the latest round of $80 million in funding from the School Safety Grant Program, Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Tom Horne told schools to prioritize having armed law enforcement. Otherwise, the superintendent said that ADE wouldn’t recommend the school for funding to the State Board of Education.
“Every school should have a law enforcement officer to protect students and staff, and this should be accomplished on an urgent basis,” said Horne. “Delay in implementing this goal could leave schools more vulnerable to a tragic catastrophe. Schools that currently have no armed presence yet submit grants applications that do not request an officer will not receive a recommendation from this Department to the State Board of Education.”
Under former Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, funding from the grant program could be applied to school resource officers or counselors. One of Hoffman’s main priorities during her first term and re-election campaign was to shrink the disparity between the number of students and counselors.
Hoffman stated that her administration slashed the student-to-counselor ratio by 20 percent. However, Horne’s administration noted that school violence has increased in recent years.
The ADE cited an increase in reported incidents of school threats, real and fake weapons found on campus, and “disturbing” social media posts inferring school violence. ADE also reported numerous receiving phone calls from Phoenix-area high school teachers about fights that, in at least one instance, risked a female teacher’s safety.
Horne noted in the ADE press release that this push for schools to have armed officers wasn’t in order to exclude other school safety measures that the program funds, such as counselors. He recalled his support for counselors as far back as 1978 during his services as a school board member, when he voted against eliminating counselors from their district.
“Schools still ought to have counselors but providing a safe school atmosphere that requires an armed presence is the first priority,” said Horne.
Horne later told ABC 15 that there wasn’t any reason why schools should refuse police protection on campuses.
“I can’t understand how anybody doesn’t understand how important it is that we be sure we don’t have any massacres in Arizona,” said Horne. “The first priority has to be the safety of the students and we don’t want a situation where 20 or 30 students are killed because no one was there to defend them.”
In a tweet, ADE posed a hypothetical, asking what a school would do if an armed “maniac” invaded a school that only had counselors and no armed officers.
Several days after ADE announced its decision on school safety grants, a 13-year-old Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District student making a “kill list” was arrested; school officials determined that the student posed a credible threat.
State Rep. Jennifer Pawlik (D-LD13) called Horne’s decision “disappointing.” Pawlik also criticized the decision to make the announcement during National School Counselors Week.
The ACLU of Arizona asserted that school safety couldn’t be achieved with police presence on campus.
In addition to this funding, ADE is working with former Phoenix Police Department leaders to provide additional safety resources and procedures to schools.
Opposition to armed officers on campus often comes from concerns over a racial divide. Tensions heightened in one school district last year over discussions of funding school resource officers (SROs), about one month after the Uvalde school shooting. Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) Board Member Lindsay Love said that she and too many others, including children and parents, felt uncomfortable with having more police officers on campus.
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.