The Desert Sands Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously to renew its contract through the 2024-2025 school year with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for two deputies to patrol and provide services at the following campuses in La Quinta: La Quinta High, Summit High, Colonel Mitchell Paige Middle and La Quinta Middle.
The district and the City of La Quinta will each pay for 50% of the cost of the two deputies — an estimated amount of $578,500 charged to each agency over the three-year contract.
The contract with the sheriff's department and the memorandum of understanding with the City of La Quinta were approved by the Board on the consent calendar, a group of actions voted on together generally without discussion.
The deputies, referred to as school resource officers, act as law enforcement officers on school campuses. Their duties may also include counseling of students and parents and serving as liaisons between school staff and the school attendance review board, the probation department and other law enforcement officials.
The district plans to finance its share of the officers’ compensation with money from the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), a fund designed to support services for low-income, English learner and foster youth students.
In its current LCAP budget, the district writes: “The School Resource Officer program is an effective school-based law enforcement program that adds to the safety, security, and peacefulness of the school environments and can further connect at-risk, economically disadvantaged students to needed services. Research shows that students who report feeling safe in school are more engaged in class, have higher academic achievement, and have lower rates of absenteeism, truancy, and behavioral issues.”
However, prominent advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have challenged the notion that school policing contributes to safe learning environments for students of color and questioned the need for police in schools.
Last fall, the Palm Springs City Council voted to subsidize with city funds the portion of the contract for a Palm Springs school resource officer that was originally to be paid with LCAP funds from the Palm Springs Unified School District.
A 2021 ACLU report cited that Black students’ arrest rates are 7.4 times higher in schools with assigned law enforcement than in schools without and “Latine” students’ arrest rates are 6.9 times higher in schools with assigned law enforcement than in schools without. Their report also cites that students with disabilities’ arrest rates are 4.6 times higher in schools with assigned law enforcement than in schools without.
In response to an inquiry whether the district collects any reporting on the SRO program, such as the number of criminal incidents on campus that require law enforcement action and the demographics of students involved in such incidents, DSUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jordan Aquino replied via email: "On a day-to-day basis, the district relies on the SRO program to conduct joint investigations. SROs provide assistance with school incidents and investigations. The SROs share their findings and guidance with us on a daily basis. Their assistance is invaluable to us. Not only are they an essential part of our community, but an essential part to our school safety and security program."
When the PSUSD renewed school resource officer contracts with its partner law enforcement agencies last fall, it did so under the condition that the district reports to the Board of Education on the number of criminal incidents on campus that require law enforcement action and whether officers are contributing to school environments that improve student behavior, attendance and grades.
School resource officers that work in that district also had to attend cultural competence training last year from the National Association of School Resource Officers.
The Coachella Valley Unified School District voted against police on campus in 2018 in favor of a “restorative justice” program that is intended to foster more dialogue between students, parents and staff to address the root causes of behavioral issues to mitigate disciplinary or law enforcement actions taken against youth.
Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com or @Writes_Jonathan.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Desert Sands renews law enforcement contracts for La Quinta schools