No one wants to put police officers in schools, but their presence is preferable to their absence.
This week's decision by the Champaign school board to maintain a police presence in five of its school buildings reflects an obvious triumph for common sense.
Kerris Lee, the lone dissenter in the 5-1 vote, said he voted in opposition because he questions whether the $291,000 cost is "the most efficient way to use our money." He's certainly right about that.
Paying for five "school resource officers" at Central and Centennial high schools and Edison, Franklin and Jefferson middle schools is not the most efficient or preferred way to expend tax dollars intended for educational purposes. But it's an unfortunate necessity because the kind of disruptions that occurred before the officers were in the schools significantly undermined the efficiency of the educational process.
There can be no effective learning in an atmosphere of chaos and turmoil. That's why maintaining an orderly atmosphere has to be the district's top priority, and it's clear from the statistics presented to the school board that the officers' presence — the steady decline of problems — has gone a long way toward calming the atmosphere. Indeed, it is inarguable.
The critics who wanted to withdraw the officers from the school mistakenly presume the officers represent a hostile, occupying force intent on picking on minority youngsters. The evidence shows that has not been the case.
The officers are present not only to put a stop to trouble when it breaks out but to prevent it from happening in the first place. The benefits of keeping impulsive youngsters out of trouble are incalculable because it's those young people who stand to benefit most from the educational opportunities available to them.
Placing police officers in schools is no small thing. So it's important to give contentious issues a thorough airing, and it's especially crucial to provide the critics a respectful hearing.
But the facts were all on one side of the argument, and the improvements that have occurred are visible to anyone who wishes to see.
The board's decision was the only one it could reasonably make.