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Parents, activists pack Binghamton school board meeting, speak out against police in schools

activists speak out against school resource officers at a Binghamton City School District Board of Education meeting.
Megan Zerez
Activists address the Binghamton City School Board. Some called for reforms and review of the district's policy on school resource officers. Others called for the police officers to be removed from district payroll altogether.

Dozens of outraged community members packed Tuesday’s Binghamton school board meeting. Parents said they don’t feel safe sending their children to school with police officers in the building.

Even before the meeting started, it was clear that both the district and activists came prepared for a long night.

Activists greeted meeting attendees outside with music and handouts. Inside, they set up a table with snacks and water.

And the district, which typically posts a police officer at the entrance to every school board meeting, had a few extra officers on hand Tuesday night.

Most of the 70 attendees were there to speak out against Binghamton’s use of school resource officers, or SROs. SROs are school-based police officers. They’re typically armed and they’re trained by local law enforcement. But their salaries come from school budgets. That was a point of contention for many of the speakers last night, including activist Salka Valerio.

"Using that funding as you used to pay [SROs], we can have more counselors, we can have more than social workers. You can have more mental health liaison," Valerio said. "There's a whole lot of things – and creative things – that you can do than put police officers in our schools."

Public records show the three SROs Binghamton had on staff in 2018 made, on average, $86,677 in 2022.

Binghamton is far from the only district with SROs. In recent years, the officers have become commonplace across the Southern Tier. Windsor, Broome Tioga BOCES, Chenango Valley, Catholic Schools of Broome County, Harpursville, Susquehanna Valley and Whitney Point, among others, have implemented SRO programs.

Some experts said Black, Hispanic and disabled students can be disproportionately targeted for discipline at higher rates when there is an SRO in the building.

This particular push comes weeks after Binghamton Police Officer Brad Kaczynski, who is white, was filmed kneeling on the neck of Hamail Waddell, a Black Asian man, in downtown Binghamton on New Year's Day.

Activists allege the officer in question was once employed by the district as a school resource officer, though school board president Brian Whalen said the officer was not an SRO at the time of the violent arrest.

Some parents, like Amber Lowe, said even current officers pose a problem, particularly for Black students like her children. At the meeting, Lowe alleged a current school resource officer used excessive force on her daughter, just days after the New Year’s Day incident.

"For a grown man in his 40s, to be throwing my daughter down a hallway shouldn't be okay," Lowe said. "The guy shouldn't be in the building at all."

Lowe’s daughter was also present at the meeting.

The meeting at times grew heated, with attendees shouting over school board members. At one point, the school board president Brian Whalen, got up to confront activists in an apparent attempt to take back the microphone.

The board’s only Black member, Korin Kirk, stepped in and de-escalated the confrontation.

After the meeting, Whalen told WSKG he was only trying to maintain decorum. But he said the board ultimately decided it was more important to listen to the complaints.

After activists had filed out, board member Timothy Ames was overheard saying the board should consider a resolution to bring in a "sergeant-at-arms."

It’s not clear if that was a joke. Last year, the district approved a measure to hire a private security firm to check high school students for contraband.