The ACLU has long opposed the introduction of law enforcement personnel in the form of School Resource Officers (SROs) to school campuses in Rhode Island, as the presence of such personnel can inappropriately redefine normal adolescent behaviors into issues of criminal justice. Until July of 2022, Rhode Island had provided for the partial reimbursement of salaries of newly hired SROs. Two pieces of legislation sought to address the presence of SROs and the need for mental health personnel on school campuses – one positively, and one negatively.
H 7546 would have appropriately allocated $2,000,000 for the hiring of school social workers. Especially for students and adolescents, the most needed personnel are those with a professional and comprehensive understanding of mental and behavioral health such as social workers or counseling personnel - not police.
However, H 7485 would have indefinitely extended the reimbursement structure that had previously existed for SROs, incentivizing schools to continue to hire personnel who are not adequately trained in youth mental and behavioral health, such as SROs. We opposed this legislation, noting that the students more disproportionately impacted by police practices and SRO presence are BIPOC students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students.
Another bill introduced in the final weeks of the legislative session, H 8310, would have required the placement of two SROs on each public school campus in the state, which we opposed for similar reasons as H 7485.
These pieces of legislation all died in committee.