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Students walkout to demand counselors, not cops in Providence public schools

“Today we are here because you have organized and called to action to removed SROs for over four years and replace them with more mental health counselors, more social workers and more social-emotional support for students,” said student Jayson Rodriguez, outside PPSD offices, acting as emcee for the event. “For too long students have been disrespected and criminalized by the Providence Public School District and its contract with the police department. Today we are calling for an end to that contract and that it never be reinstated ever again.”

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Providence public school students walked out of school on Thursday a part of a two-day protest demanding the removal of SROs (School Resource Officers) from school and reallocating the funds to more mental and emotional health support. Organized by the Providence Student Union (PSU), students are also demanding that all in-school police officers to be replaced with mental health counselors and safety staff trained in alternative conflict resolution and for the hiring of additional support staff.

See coverage of day two here: Students march on State House to demand counselors, not cops in Providence public schools

Students exited Classical High School and crossed the street gathered outside the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) offices before marching through the intermittent rain to the Providence Public Safety Complex on Washington Street, and then on to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) offices where students and allies gathered at Grant’s Block on Westminster Street downtown. At each location students took to the megaphone to share their experiences and make their demands. As the rain intensified, students returned to their starting point.

At the Counselors’ Not Cops kick-off event at the Providence City Hall three years ago , students outlined their demands in detail:

Remove all School Resource Officers (SROs) from Providence schools:

  1. Prevent armed officers, security officers, and/or police from being stationed in schools.
  2. Eliminate the eight person SRO presence currently rotating among Providence schools under a contract between the Providence Police Department and the Providence Public School Department.
  3. Use funding currently allocated for SROs within the Providence Police Department to support the hiring of the new health and safety staff described below.
  4. Hire health and safety staff focused on alternative measures for conflict resolution

Create safe and healthy schools through Positive Safety and Conduct strategies, which includes hiring health and safety staff who focus on alternative measures for conflict resolution:

  1. Hire community intervention workers, behavior interventionists, and/or restorative justice coordinators for a ratio of 250 students or fewer per health and safety staffer.
  2. These health and safety staff will be in charge of creating a unique safety plan based on restorative justice that meets the schools’ individual needs. These plans should include a peer mediator component.

Increase the number of support staff in schools:

  1. Hire school guidance counselors, nurses and mental health providers each for a ratio of 150 students or fewer per support staff, with specific staffing plans for unique schools.
  2. Mental health providers should be available as a resource for teachers as well as students.
  3. Support staff must represent and reflect the demographics of the student body.
  4. Ensure newly hired school support staff undergo restorative justice trainings that reflect the Providence Schools Code of Conduct.

On Friday, the students will walk out again. Below is all the video from Thursday’s walk-out.

Will James had the livestream:

“Today we are here because you have organized and called to action to removed SROs for over four years and replace them with more mental health counselors, more social workers and more social-emotional support for students,” said student Jayson Rodriguez, outside PPSD offices, acting as emcee for the event. “For too long students have been disrespected and criminalized by the Providence Public School District and its contract with the police department. Today we are calling for an end to that contract and that it never be reinstated ever again.

“We don’t need cops in our schools. We don’t need guns in our schools. We need actual safety that isn’t rooted in our oppression and tied to the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to protect Black, brown, queer, trans and near-divergentant students. This harm shall go on no longer. We deserve better!


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“This is what we are here for today. We want Counselors, Not Cops!”

The march from the Providence Public School Department offices to the Providence Public Safety Complex:

At the Providence Public Safety Complex the students reiterated their demand that the contract between Providence Schools and the Providence police to provide SROs be cancelled.

“SROs intimidate Black and brown students and make them unable to focus entirely on their education. How are students supposed to learn when there’s an armed police officer standing six feet away, knowing full well that children their age, like Adam Toledo, have been shot for no reason?”

Here PSU talked about police versus school budgets, and questioned the priorities of cops in schools when some schools are falling apart and have lead in their water. There was also a call for more teachers of color, to better reflect the diversity of the student body.

“I know these are trying times,” said Brandon, a Providence Public Schools student. “Our pain is a commodity as you will only see Black people in bondage or body bags. Across the country voting and protesting rights are being violated as retaliation for the cultural shift that took place last summer. Her sin Providence youth and their lives are traded and sold by companies like PPSD and RIDE, tokenized by leaders that only see us as means to an end.

“In this city, children have police roaming their halls, to remind them what the rest of the world sees them as. Instead of schools being a place to build our futures, the true goal of our current education system, especially for BIPOC youth, is to destroy them…”

The march from the Providence Public Safety Complex to RIDE:

“The people who work in this building allow students to get arrested and harmed by police in our schools and th people in this building do not prioritize our mental health,” said Eugenie to the students, outside RIDE. “Angélica Infante-Green is the education commissioner in our state, and she has ignored the youth leaders in our city who have asked for change over two years. She is in charge of decision making for our schools, but today we are taking that power.

“I want to remind you all that these are our schools! We attend the schools every damned day and deserve them. If they are going to force us to attend these buildings that are falling apart, we have a say in the future of them.

“So let me ask you: Whose schools are these?” Ended Eugenie.

“Our schools!” answered the crowd.

“Fortunately, I go to to a school where there isn’t an officer on site and where there are more than three accessible social guidance counselors in each school building,” said Makora Lweis, a student at the Met High School. “And because of the effect of minor issues being resolved without physical damage, there has not been a single physical fight there since 1998.”

As the Lewis spoke, around fifty students from the Wheeler School arrived at Grant’s Block, to join and support the protest outside RIDE.

“There have been several reported and undocumented cases over the last decade in which school resource officers have tasered, pepper-sprayed, wounded and used aggression on students in order to cause physical damage,” continued Lewis.

Jayda Williams told the story of Anthony J Thomspon Jr, who was shot and killed by police officers’ in his high school’s bathroom on April 12. Two other students were directly affected by the incident.

“Trauma,” said Williams. “This incident has caused the innocent student trauma that will have a long lasting impact on them. This student and the other students need counselors. At this moment in time the need or counselors is crucial and imperative.

“April 12th was 17 days ago,” continued Williams. “We can’t go back in the past, but we can move forward. These tragedies caused by school resource officers are a wake up call and a call to action. We need to stray away from bullets, guns and police officers and opt for non-violent approaches.

“We are saying no to cops and yes to counselors!”

Jayson Rodriguez leads the crowd in chants.

Bhintuna, a Providence high school student, spoke about the need for counselors to prevent teen suicide.

“The first leading cause of teenage death is accidental injury,” said Bhintuna, “But the second leading cause of teenage death is suicide – not cancer or illness – suicide.

“So why aren’t schools doing anything about it? We should be giving kids the support that they need. The support that we need. And what we need, is mental health resources…

“So let’s stop spending more on people who make our lives worse, and start spending money on people that make our lives better!”

“It’s sad that attending a school without SROs is a privilege and it’s not accessible to every student” said Alan de la Cruz, a junior at Paul Cuffee School. “Being at an SRO free school means that I can receive an education where I’m not worried that I’m going to become the next victim of police brutality.”

Jayson Rodriguez leads the crowd in chants.

Eugenie with a poem:

After more than a year, a resolution before the Providence City Council that calls for more social-emotional support in our schools is now out of committee and “hopefully we’ll be going to council for a full vote,” said Providence City Counselor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3).

“Our young people have been advocating for more social-emotional support for young people in our schools for years. We are tired of young people going into schools, dealing with personal traumas, not getting the help they need but yet there’s all these expectations for the to do well – to ace a test, to score a certain score – so this district can look good – but no one cares about them…”

The Wheeler students split from the crowd as the rally marched back to the PPSD offices.

The rally ended outside PPSD, and will continue on Friday at noon.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

atomicsteve@gmail.com

Freelance Journalist and Visual Artist, and Video Producer for Uprise RI. If you would like to support my work directly my username on CashApp, Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal is "willconns".