Providence Student Union calls for 'Counselors Not Cops'

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- The Providence Student Union kicked off a new campaign inside Providence City Hall Wednesday, demanding more support in Providence schools.

The campaign is called #CounselorsNotCops.

Students say the city's schools need to change their approach to keeping classrooms safe.

They held a rally with signs and banners to make their message heard.

The group wants to not only eliminate school resource officers, but then take the cost savings from that and add counselors to each school.

Students say they feel uncomfortable with armed resource officers patrolling the hallways.

They believe alternative strategies for de-escalation will help everyone feel safer.

“I am fighting to remove the people and pieces that constantly support a system that criminalizes students,” said Classical High School student and Providence Student Union member Jayson Rodriguez. “Those people and pieces are the school resource officers and their guns.”

“Cops are not necessary in schools, it makes students feel uncomfortable and can be replaced by alternatives such as safety teams or trained staff that know how to de-escalate situations," added PSU member Aleita Cook. "Counselors and mental health workers are extremely important because there are students in the school that go through mental health problems and don’t know what to do about it. Students should not have to feel alone because they have no one to listen to them."

Providence City Counselor Nirva LaFortune spoke as well, saying she plans to work with this group and Providence public safety officials to file an ordinance addressing some of these concerns.

Providence School Superintendent Chris Maher says safety is their top priority and they rely on school resource officers in emergency situations.

Maher released a statement about the campaign following the rally.

"We rely on the specially trained school resource officers not only to ensure a safe environment in emergency situations but also to build strong, positive relationships with our students," the statement read. "I met with the PSU on this issue, heard their concerns, and asked them for additional information. I look forward to meeting with them again to continue the discussion."

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré also released a statement following the rally.

"The demand or suggestion that we remove police officers from our schools is contrary to best practices both regionally and nationally," Paré said. "Over the years, teachers, principals and administrators have requested more school resource officers, not less. We will continue to meet and discuss their concerns."

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