Re-1 open to addressing SRO concerns |

Re-1 open to addressing SRO concerns

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Roaring Fork Re-1 school board is willing to work with local police agencies and a student immigrant rights group to ensure school resource police officers working in Re-1 schools are not in the business of immigration enforcement.

But a policy explicitly prohibiting school resource officers (SROs) from collaborating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would likely spell the end of the SRO program altogether, school board member Daniel Biggs advised students attending the Wednesday night school board meeting.

“I have talked to the police chiefs, and hopefully we can come up with an appropriate assignment [job] description for SROs that addresses some of your concerns,” Biggs said.

“I agree, we have a lot of students who are undocumented, and that does not make them a criminal,” he added. “I do not want our students to feel that way.”

While the school district participates in and partially funds the SRO programs in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools, the officers themselves are employees of the local police departments. Among their many duties is to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies, Biggs said.

“I’m afraid that if we adopt a policy that restricts that collaboration, we will lose the opportunity to have SROs at all,” he said.

Last fall, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), through the local student advocacy group Association of Students United in Action (known as AJUA in Spanish), raised concerns about local SROs working in a dual capacity with ICE.

The practice, they said, gives the perception at least that those officers are acting as informants to turn undocumented family members of students over to immigration officials.

At the Wednesday board meeting, AJUA representatives presented evidence, based on overtime pay requests obtained from local police departments, that SROs in both Glenwood Springs and Carbondale had been involved with various ICE operations over the past two years.

That dual capacity for officers who are assigned the schools beat has caused an unsettling environment for immigrant students and their families.

The Re-1 school district student population is 52 percent Latino. Some of those students are citizens from birth or their parents have valid immigration documents. Others have family members who are in the country illegally.

“Having SROs cross-designated with ICE is not a common practice,” AJUA spokesman Alex Alvarado, a Roaring Fork High School graduate and current Colorado Mountain College Student, advised the school board.

The SROs working in Re-1 schools appear to be unique in that regard, he said.

Based on the group’s research since last fall, out of 36 police officers identified on the Western Slope who were cross-designated with ICE, only four were assigned as SROs. Three of those were in the Re-1 school district, while the fourth was in Montrose, Alvarado said.

“We believe you have a responsibility to fix this, and not have an ICE presence in the schools,” Alvarado said to the board. “We believe a written policy is the only way to ensure these activities stop.”

AJUA and CIRC have received support in their efforts to convince the school district to adopt a policy around the issue from the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has also weighed in on the issue.

Area police chiefs acknowledge that some of their officers work with ICE as part of the inter-agency Operation Community Shield anti-gang task force.

The task force works to prevent crime and gang-related activity in local communities. Part of its focus is to curb gang recruiting in schools, which is why SROs have been involved.

But Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling, whose department was the initial target of CIRC and AJUA’s allegations, said the students’ research is “flawed.”

There’s a distinction between local police officers being cross-designated to work as customs officers, which is the case in this instance, as opposed to being immigration officers.

“Customs is not immigration,” Schilling said, adding that local police are not allowed to do immigration enforcement. “They are not ICE officers.”

Regardless, he said he is willing to work with the school district to refine job descriptions for SROs, but only to a point.

“They are my police officers, and they just happen to be assigned to the schools,” Schilling said. “It’s my decision what they do in that role. We can’t have a policy that restricts the duties of what the officers do, because they are law enforcement officers first.”

Schilling also confirmed that the police officer who was the initial target of the groups’ allegations, Alvaro Agon, is no longer with the Carbondale Police Department and has moved away. No officer is currently assigned to the SRO position in Carbondale, he said.


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