Questioning the Purpose of School Resource Officers


A School Resource Officer car on the Novato High campus.

Tamara Buchanan, Reporter

Over the past year, some student advocates and leaders across the country have asked school districts to remove School Resource Officers (SRO) from campuses. SRO’s are trained in the police force and then assigned to school campuses. 

SRO’s can be on campus for a few reasons but mainly to ensure all-around safety for students and staff. Officer Antonio Rodriguez, the Novato High SRO, might represent something different to different students at Novato High. Some like his presence on campus, while others believe the school does not need him.  

Students have many opinions on having an SRO on campus. Nicole Peralta, a junior at Novato High School, talked about having an SRO on campus. 

“The students, at the end of the day, don’t want to get in trouble with the law, so having an SRO may prevent as many students from getting into fights…resulting in students possibly feeling safer on campus,” she said.

With the topic of police brutality being widely discussed on the national level, some students wonder if an officer on campus is creating discomfort for some. Aakash Valdivia, a sophomore at Novato High School, shared his opinion on having an SRO on Novato’s Campus. 

“I think that if we were to have an officer on our campus, it would be somewhat beneficial if there was an emergency or some kind of attack on the school. One of the biggest problems with having an officer on campus is if the officer has any prejudices or hate towards any kind of group or movement. Instead of helping with issues at school, it could just cause even more problems. Law enforcement is meant to protect and aid the people, not tear them down because they have the power to do so,” he said, not necessarily talking about Rodriguez, but officers in general.

Not all students feel that an SRO is needed on campus. Some students think that there is an assumption that every campus needs an SRO, which is certainly not the case. An anonymous student at Novato High expressed their opinion on the topic. 

“I just don’t see a point in having a resource officer on campus. I’ve never been in an experience where having one made me feel safer and I feel like it just exhibits the message that there’s a constant threat on campus that needs to be monitored, which isn’t the case at Novato,” they added.

Staff also have opinions on having SRO’s on campus. Novato High Assistant Principal, Michelle Cortez, also shared her opinion about having SRO’s on-campus and dealing with law enforcement throughout her 15 years in education. 

“As a woman high school administrator for the last 15 years, I’ve had experience with city officers (not here in Novato) who don’t know me or trust my judgment when working with students and families.  Besides the fact that that kind of response is not supportive, it has never been true with our NUSD School Resource Officers who have always been respectful, patient, and calm in every situation I’ve ever worked on with them,” said Cortez.  “I think it’s a complex issue and I hope our community takes time to consider major adjustments that prioritize the needs of BIPOC students and families.  To me, it’s not a binary yes or no.  Rather, it’s systemic improvement across several roles including the roles of school administrators and staff.” 

In September of 2020, San Rafael High School ended its SRO program. The district’s decision took many months and numerous students and community members spoke out about this topic. While the increasingly discussed topic of police brutality wasn’t the only reason they removed the SRO program, it was a factor and many students protested against having an SRO on campus. Some minority groups felt unfairly targeted within San Rafael City Schools. 

While San Rafael City Schools and Novato Unified School District are different, Novato families, staff, and students started questioning if SRO’s would stay on Novato campuses as well.  

When asking Cortez if she felt pressure from other districts to decide on still having SRO’s on campus, she explained “All across the county (and country!), youth advocates are asking school districts to rethink SRO presence on campus. It’s important that we listen, engage in critical dialogue as a community, and prioritize the voices and experiences of students most impacted by police on campus.  I call that healthy discourse – not pressure.” 

As for deciding the fate of SRO officers on campus at Novato High, Cortez says that the NUSD Board of Trustees will hear the Superintendent’s recommendations later this month and vote.  She also said that it is crucial to listen to the community, staff, and students’ opinions on this topic.