Fayetteville to consider new school resource officer proposal

Fayetteville police school resource officers Kevin Carroll and John Warren pose for a photo with Robin Copeland Yoakum’s third grade class at Vandergriff Elementary School. The students collected hot chocolate, tissues, mints, hands warmers and coffee cups to donate to the officers last winter.

Photo: Fayetteville Public Schools

Fayetteville City Council members are set to consider another proposal for two new school resource officers at the next regular meeting on Tuesday (Aug. 18).

The measure would approve a grant from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services hiring program, which would provide $250,000 to put toward hiring two officers for the Fayetteville School District for a four-year period. The district has requested two new officers for its middle schools.

The issue was first considered on Aug. 4 with a proposal to split the remaining $312,710 needed between the city and the school district. During the meeting, the item was also amended to require that the SROs be licensed in social work if allowed by state law.

The initial vote was evenly split at 4-4 with Council Members Sarah Marsh, Mark Kinion, Sarah Bunch and Teresa Turk voting in favor, and Matthew Petty, Sloan Scroggin, Kyle Smith, and Sonia Gutierrez voting against the measure. Mayor Lioneld Jordan chose to cast the tie-breaking vote to pass the resolution.

After the vote, Marsh moved to reconsider the decision, and during the second vote, the resolution failed 3-5, with only Kinion, Bunch, and Turk voting in favor.

Council Member Turk has since introduced a new measure in which the school district would pay the full remainder of the money needed, including an additional $30,190 to hire higher-ranking officers than the grant money provides for.

Since Turk’s proposal requires no funding from the city and has no minimum employment standards, City Attorney Kit Williams said it’s considered to be a new item and that Turk – who voted in favor of the the failed resolution on Aug. 4 – is allowed to bring it to the council for consideration under the New Business portion of the agenda (read Williams’ memo).

The Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition and city resident Sarah Moore, however, disagree and have filed a lawsuit seeking an emergency injunction to stop council members from considering the issue without the unanimous approval of the full council as is required for reconsideration of an item that has previously failed.

The group said they believe the new motion is “an end-around of the democratic process” because while there might be some differences in the two proposals, the resolution still presents the same question of whether the city should accept the grant or not.

“A resolution that has been altered immaterially cannot masquerade as a novel resolution to avoid the unanimous vote requirement,” the lawsuit states.

The group also argues that there are systemic problems within the school district related to SROs and their interactions with students who are non-white, low-income, or who have special needs.

The lawsuit argues that SROs are a poor fix for school safety.

“Instead of protecting students, SROs change a school from a social and educational environment into a surveillance zone. This change is a root cause of the school-to-prison-pipeline. When schools introduce SROs, students are more likely to be arrested, suspended, or expelled. This system perpetuates poverty, low-education rates, and often affects students and families in our poorest and most marginalized communities.”

An expedited hearing is sought on the injunction, but as of Tuesday morning, no hearing had been set.

UPDATE: Shortly before Tuesday night’s meeting, Judge John Threet denied the request for an injunction.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

» Read the coalition’s press release announcing the lawsuit

» Read the filed complaint