Columbus Schools Reopen Without Police Presence

Schools in Columbus, Ohio, are reopening without city police officer presence for the first time in 25 years, reports The Columbus Dispatch.

The contract between Columbus City Schools and the Columbus Division of Police expired on June 30 of last year, and despite multiple attempts to renegotiate, a new one has yet to be signed. The lapse has been gaining renewed focus since students began returning to school in February following a year of remote learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials from both the school and the police department have expressed interest in renewing the agreement. “We’re still in the space of considering and looking, researching and digging in,” said Columbus Board of Education President Jennifer Adair. “We really want to get this right, when we think about reimagining what school safety looks like, in terms of a formal police presence, in addition to our own safety and security.”

A group of district employees, students, and community members met in the fall to make recommendations about police presence in schools, but they couldn’t reach an agreement. Board members met twice in December to discuss reworking the relationship with city police, but no votes were taken. No public discussions have taken place in 2021. The district is currently assembling a permanent “culture and climate” committee that will address school safety issues—including future partnership with the city police department.

Police officers who formerly served as campus resources officers have either been redeployed to other assignments or chose to retire. During the 2019-2020 school year, each of the district’s 19 high schools had at least one armed Columbus police officer stationed to its campus, costing the district $1.23 million in total.

Even when officers were assigned to schools, the district employed an additional 84 unarmed security officers at a cost of $6 million. These privately employed officers are currently in charge of monitoring student security and safety in schools.

“The office has a good relationship with CPD and can call upon them if needed,” said district spokeswoman Jacqueline Bryant.

Columbus police Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight said that district requests now come through police dispatch. “It’s not just about building security, but also developing relationships,” she said. “Our goal is to intercede prior to a situation becoming a criminal act.”

The contract renegotiation comes against the backdrop of reconsidering the role of police in communities triggered by the death of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide protests. In nearby Worthington, Ohio, the school board voted abruptly and without community input to sever its contract with the Columbus Division of Police and the Worthington Police Department. Some community members applauded the decision, while others feel it was made too quickly and without implementing other safety and security protocols.

Last week, reports The Columbus Dispatch, a video depicting a brawl between two high-school students circulated on social media. “Now it’s a question that’s going to be asked after every incident: If we had a school resource officer, could they have done something?” said Bryant. “Our community is more divided now than I’ve ever seen it, as a result of how this was done…and it’s putting our kids at risk.”

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