A recent safety and security overview of the Shawnee Mission School District, including a look at student resource officers’ interactions with students, shows that Black students are disproportionately “involved in high-severity, discipline-related activity.
District data shows Black students involved in disciplinary incidents are more likely than their white peers to be referred to law enforcement.
That was among the conclusions presented by the district’s police department during a first-of-its-kind overview of the school resource officer program at the school board’s April 11 workshop.
Why now? The public presentation was prompted, in part, by a new community group that has called for more transparency of SMSD’s use of school resource officers.
The district contracts with the Lenexa, Prairie Village, Overland Park and Shawnee police departments to provide school resource officers in middle and high schools.
The parent-led Shawnee Mission Equity Coalition has been working to enhance the district’s diversity and inclusion efforts and, as part of that, had requested information about the school resource officer program.
A district spokesperson says the district was already working to compile that data when the group asked for a review of SRO interactions with students.
Bigger picture: SMEC’s request was prompted by a 12-point framework articulated by another nationwide group called Showing Up for Racial Justice, which focuses on white people’s role in fighting for racial justice.
SURJ sent its own demands to all school districts in the Kansas City metro following the death of George Floyd nearly two years ago, SMEC member Kim Whitman told the Post.
One of those demands was to remove police from schools. SMEC members don’t necessarily want to go that far but Whitman said they are worried about SRO contracts and policies being approved and implement with little or no public evaluation.
“The data is concerning and the lack of a plan to address the disparities is even more concerning,” Whitman said. “Students of color are suspended and arrested at a disproportionate rate across the nation, and suspension rates are positively correlated to arrest rates in the future. Our district must have an action plan to address this disparity.”
By the numbers: Here’s a breakdown of some key numbers included in the district’s security and safety report, which can be found in its entirety here.
- There were more than 148 students that acquired 184 possible referrals to law enforcement recorded during the 2020-21 school year for a variety of reasons, including anything from stealing or theft to battery and physical contact. Of the 148 students, 17% were Black and 49% were white.
- Black students make up 9% of the district’s population in fiscal year 2022, but they accounted for 21% of incidents referred to law enforcement and 25% of incidents that led to legal action from 2018 to 2021.
- White students, who make up 62% of the student population in 2022, accounted for 49% of incidents referred to law enforcement and 45% of incidents that led to legal action during that same time period.
- District resource officers made 76 arrests from 2016 to 2021 — 36 white students, 32 Black students and eight Hispanic students.
Of those 76 arrests, 21 students were transported to a juvenile or adult detention center.
- There are 25 total law enforcement personnel assigned to SMSD schools, including 10 school resource officers, eight district resource officers and seven campus resource officer. Of those 25, 19 are White, four are Hispanic, one is Black and one is Asian, according to the report.
A known issue: Mark Schmidt, the district’s chief of police and director of emergency services, said at the April 11 meeting he “can’t solve [disproportionate problems] by myself, I’d be really rich if I could figure that out for the United States, if I could fix that problem.”
Schmidt said remedying the disparity between Black and white students’ disciplinary involvement with law enforcement is a “passionate” issue the district is trying to solve.
SMEC’s next steps: Following the district’s presentation, SMEC members say they hope to meet with district administrators and call for a more thorough evaluation of SRO program data, Whitman said.
Despite some students who attended and spoke positively about SROs at the April 11 meeting, Whitman said a survey needs to be conducted to find out how students districtwide feel about SROs.
Key quote: “I will admit, I think we can do better [collecting data],” Schmidt, the district’s chief of police, told the school board. “I think we can come to a table and agree that we collect data the same way, I don’t think we have in the past and that’s something we definitely want to work on.”
Editors Note: This story has been amended to add the district’s comment saying a review of SRO data was already underway when the parent group SMEC asked for that data.