5 students tell you why they want police-free schools

Activists, students and teachers across the country have been urging officials to remove law enforcement officers from schools.

(CNN)Students have spoken at school board meetings, created online petitions and held protests to push police out of their schools in the past weeks.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of police heightened the scrutiny of school resource officers and so far, some schools across the United States have started cutting ties with police or disbanding their police forces.
CNN spoke to students from across the country about school resource officers, or SROs, and the changes they want to see at their schools.

    They make them feel not valued

    Salem Hailu says it's hard for students of color to feel comfortable at schools with SROs.
    Salem Hailu, 17, a soon-to-be senior at Byers High School in Denver, Colorado, says students of color are treated differently and in a more punitive way than others by their school resource officers.
    Most of the times police are called to her school it's for incidents or reports involving students of color and mostly Black students, she says.
    "It makes me feel not wanted in my own school. It makes me feel like students of color aren't valued," Salem said.
    While SROs are encouraged to have positive interactions with students and tasked with building relationships with them, Salem thinks schools should put more resources elsewhere.
    "They (students) should be having relationships with social workers and people who could actually help their future and their mental health," Salem said.
    What's happening in her school district? Earlier this month, the Denver school board voted unanimously to end its contract with the city's police department, which provided SROs to work in the district's schools. All officers will be phased out by mid-2021, the board has said.

    They've seen SROs using excessive force

    Jasmin Benas started a petition calling for the removal of school resource officers at the Wake County Public School System.
    Jasmin Benas, 18, was in the parking lot of Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, when she watched as a group of SROs held Black students to the ground and arrested them.
    "Our immediate reaction was just like take out your phones and record. So something can hold these SROs accountable," Benas said.
    "I can understand discipline in terms of having a meeting with the principal if something happened but this wasn't discipline. It was excessive force and it wasn't appropriate," she added.
    What's happening in her district? The Wake County Public School System's board renewed it's memorandum of agreement last week and approved contracts with law enforcement agencies that provide SROs to the school district. Thousands of students have signed a petition and held protests calling for the removal of SROs.

    'We should have counselors and less cops'

    Amir Lumumba has been advocating for months to make school officials reconsider the presence of SROs in schools.
    Amir Lumumba, 12, an eighth grader at Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, says he's seen some SROs quickly taking students to the principal's office, which leads to unnecessary suspensions.
    "I feel like if they had a way to express themselves or tell a person what happened, or if they had a safe place to let a person know what they are feeling or why they acted that way, I feel like that would be better than getting taken to the office to get suspended for three or four days," Amir said.
    "We should have counselors and less cops in school or no cops at all," he added. "Cops they're there for emergencies not to be walking around in schools with guns."
    What's happening in his district? The Montgomery County Schools board of education has directed the district's superintendent to review the SRO program. Every public high school in Montgomery County has one SRO assigned and earlier this year, the county voted against expanding the SRO program to middle schools, CNN affiliate WJLA reported.

    They are afraid of going to school

    Her interactions with SROs have inspired Autumn Vultao to speak up for students who may need mental health resources.
    Autumn Vultao, 17, a soon-to-be senior at Denver Public Schools, doesn't trust SROs to intervene in mental health incidents at school.
    When she was a sophomore, SROs were called to check on her and "were gaslighting me and using my prior hospitalizations as fuel for them to be angry even though I wasn't doing anything wrong," Autumn said.
    Ultimately, a counselor at school stepped in and talked to her but Autumn says it's possible that it could have escalated further if she just had talked back to them.
    "I'm still afraid of going to my school and speaking to somebody about anything regarding mental health because I'm afraid that will happen again or even worse this time," Autumn said. "At the same time, it's also made me more outspoken because it can happen to other people."
    What's happening in her district? Earlier this month, the Denver school board voted unanimously to end its contract with the city's police department, which provided SROs to work in the district's schools. All officers will be phased out by mid-2021, the board has said.

    'We need to re-imagine the idea of school safety'