School Resource Officer Todd Laporte walks down the hall at David Prouty High School Thursday in Spencer, MA. Photo by: Christine Peterson/Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER – Not all students are itching to see the end of full-time school resource officers in the city’s high schools after this year.

But even if they did appreciate the daily presence of an officer at their school, they could also see the point of view of their classmates who didn’t like the controversial policing model.

Some students, meanwhile, agreed with the city’s decision to end the program.

“I think it’s a good idea, to be honest,” said North High School senior Jasmine Owusu, one of the student leaders who spoke with the Telegram  & Gazette last week. “There have been a few issues with the officers we’ve had in our school.”

Like most students interviewed, Owusu clarified she has no problems with her school’s current school resource officer – “everyone loves him,” she said – but her concern is that may not always be the case, depending on the student or the officer.

A previous resource officer at North High, for example, had a reputation for “being aggressive with students,” she said. “I was kind of scared of him sometimes, I’m not going to lie," she added.

Those are the kinds of complaints that ultimately led City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., and eventually a majority of the City Council, to adopt a plan to end the full-time resource officer program in the schools by the end of the year. Currently the police department stations five officers at each of the district’s five comprehensive high schools and provides an additional two officers to serve the rest of the school system.

Removing school from police has been a talking point in Worcester for years, and advocates for the move have cited student testimony, as well as research and statistics, supporting the idea that full-time officers in schools don’t necessarily make them any safer and could contribute to the “school-to-prison” pipeline” that unequally targets students of color.

On other hand, proponents of the school resource officer model, including the district’s superintendent, Maureen Binienda, say having police in schools does make them safer and helps improve the level of trust between police and young people.

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Some Worcester students, who preferred not to be named, did acknowledge feeling safer knowing a police officer was always in the building with them, particularly in light of recent school shootings like the massacre three years ago in Parkland, Florida.

One of those students also said she disagreed with the city’s move to end the current school resource officer model, and that instead of removing police, she’d like to see protocols and procedures put in place that would simply hold them more accountable.

Students who preferred police in the schools said they had limited interactions with the officer in their building, however – usually a wave in the morning or a “hello” while passing during lunch was the extent of their contact. Some, however, described a mostly genial relationship overall between the officers and students. “I always saw students coming to talk to him, he definitely knew us,” one Doherty High School student said of that school’s resource officer.

Leena Elbayoumi, a student at Shrewsbury High School and president of the Massachusetts chapter of Enough is Enough, a locally based, student-led antiracist organization, said research suggests problems arise when police get more involved in daily school life beyond those sorts of low-pressure situations, however.

“Suspensions and arrests rise when there are more officers in the schools” in general, she said, adding students like her are concerned about police “getting too involved in the day-to-day” monitoring and discipline of students in place of school staff.

That’s precisely what school resource officer Todd Laporte said he tries to avoid in his role in the Spencer-East Brookfield schools, however. “I’m not a disciplinarian … that was clearly discussed up front” when the district’s resource officer position was created a few years ago, he said.

“I think sometimes just my visible presence can be enough” to help keep things calm inside the schools, Laporte said.

School resource officer Todd Laporte talks with Kelly McCarthy’s English class at David Prouty High School Thursday in Spencer.

School Resource Officer Todd LaPorte talks with Kelly McCarthy's English class at David Prouty High School Thursday in Spencer. Christine Peterson/Telegram & Gazette


Otherwise, he mostly spends his time assisting with morning arrivals, afternoon dismissals, lunch periods and other events throughout the day, as well as providing expertise on dealing with child service agencies and other government departments the district may need to interact with.

The social work aspect of the position, he added, “has really developed into a big part of my role,” as has the work around helping school staff deal with social/emotional student issues throughout the day.

Laporte acknowledged his presence in the schools, especially at David Prouty High School in Spencer, isn’t always initially welcomed by students.  “Many of the kids, unfortunately, haven’t had interactions with the police” outside of crisis situations or other scenarios where they might have made negative associations about law enforcement, he said.

Laporte said he’s offered more wary students, “without any pressure,” a chance to sit down and talk about his job and any concerns they might have about him being at the schools. “I let them know my door is always open,” he said.

He also tries not to let what’s happening in Worcester reflect on his own situation in Spencer-East Brookfield. “I used to dwell on things like that more, but I don’t think a lot about things that aren’t under my control anymore,” he said.

Even some students who are critical of school resource officer programs don’t want their message to be misconstrued as a rejection of all policing in schools.

“Abolishing police is not the correct answer in schools,” said Aryan Kumar, a student at the Advanced Math & Science Academy in Marlboro and founder and CEO of Enough is Enough. “Having an SRO on campus is very essential.”

But Kumar and other students said they’d like to see resource officers undergo more training for the particular responsibilities of working in a school.

Even with improved training, some students felt the mere presence of uniformed officers in schools was an issue. One student who preferred not to be named said that while she was OK with police in schools, some other students she spoke to felt too much they like were being watched during the school day.

“I don’t think it’s really necessary to have the police there,” Owusu said. “I don’t think there are a lot of things happening in schools that really require police.”

One thing students agreed on is that youth should be more involved in decision making around school resource officers, as well as school issues in general. One student said she felt like even the city’s decision to phase out Worcester’s school policing model was done without much input from students.

“We’re the ones going to the schools,” Owusu said. “Students know students best – I think a lot of decisions are made without considering how students feel about them.”

Students were not certain about what they’d like to see come after the school resource officer program in Worcester, however. city officials have pledged to develop an alternative that will still keep schools safe.

One student, who asked not to be named, acknowledged students may not be privy to all of the factors that go into making a decision like that, and simply hoped the city would come up with something that continued to allow her to feel safe.

Scott O’Connell can be reached at Scott.O’ Follow him on Twitter @ScottOConnellTG