FORT WORTH, Texas — Last week, a casting call went out to certain students in the Fort Worth school district. School officials sent out the request for 10 students — 9th-11th graders — to appear in a video to be viewed by their peers on how to safely interact with law enforcement officers.
The 45-minute video, set to be completed by November — is required viewing, and students can’t graduate until they’ve seen it. The new production will replace an existing version that was not specifically tailored to students.
The message was sent to the district’s group Student Leaders Anti-Racist Movement. The state’s education code requires that districts work with law enforcement, and Fort Worth is the first Texas district to shoot its own version of the video.
A source inside the district who asked not to be identified since it is against policy to speak to the press said the soon-to-be filmed video would be vastly better than the original version because the district is asking for student input.
As State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) explained in the first iteration of the video, the impetus for the original production stems from the Community Safety Education Act (SB 30) passed in 2018. The video is also mandatory viewing for anyone hoping to get a driver’s license.
“There's been issues that have arose over the last few years concerning and the interaction between law enforcement and citizens,” he said in an intro to the video. “In many instances, there have been fatalities as a result of this interaction … We believed in Texas, that [we should] come up with behavior expectations for those types of interactions would be most appropriate.
“We decided to make certain that we embedded in the DNA of the state, the way we have gone about doing that [is] we've placed it in our school system and requiring, yes, mandating, that students between the grades of nine through 12 get that content that is the behavior expectation — know what their rights are and know if they want to compliment or either complain about a police officer, exactly how you go about doing that,” he continued.
The initial video was met with sharp criticism by parents and concerned observers who believed that the production was a lesson in how to comply and seemingly absolves the officers from responsibility for their actions toward students.
Lizzie Maldonado, a concerned Fort Worth school district parent and community organizer, said she is troubled by the fact that the school district’s only answer to conflict resolution is to hire more on-campus officers and teach children how to obey them.
“This district legally has to have supports in place for student conflict resolution,” she said. “They choose to have SROs (student resources officers) be that support. But there's a long list in the state’s requirements of what they can have, and it includes things like conflict resolution training, de-escalation training, counselors, all kinds of stuff. And Fort Worth ISD puts almost all of its eggs in the basket of SROs.
“Even if we're going to say, ‘Fine, you're going to do all that. And you're going to choose SROs over everything else,’ you're going to do this video that basically puts the burden of being safe in an interaction with police on children,” she continued. “They could still do that video in a way that's teaches students to know their rights, because at the very least that could empower kids to be able to say, ‘This wasn't OK when I got hit at school, when I got restrained, when I keep getting disciplined but the white kids in my class don't get disciplined, when I keep getting disciplined but the non-disabled and neuro-typical kids in my class don't get disciplined.’ That kind of thing is not part of that effort to educate students. It's just about listen, comply.”
The school district places one SRO at each middle school and at least two at each high school, depending on the size, a spokesperson for the district said in an email. An SRO’s interaction with students is guided by the Fort Worth Police Department’s School Units Standard Operating Procedures, the spokesperson added. Funding for the SROs comes from the recently renewed Crime Control and Prevention District tax.
The district has no available data on how many “use of force” incidents have involved SROs, the officers’ incident reporting requirements, interactions with SROs that led to an arrest, and very little additional information on the impact of their presence on campus.
The district employee who didn’t want to be identified said the new video should assuage many of the concerns critics have voiced about the first iteration. The employee said the new version plans to address a range of issues the first video neglected, including a student’s rights, a school’s role in immigration, and how to file a complaint. The staffer called the first video “very flawed” and pointed out that the video wasn’t produced specifically for students.
The employee applauded the district for making its own version and emphasized that the district has sought student input for the new video.