DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Five large advocacy groups are calling on Dallas ISD to defund its police department and use the money saved to pay for more school counselors and social workers.

In a letter from Children’s Defense Fund Texas, The Earl Carl Institute at Texas Southern University, Texas Appleseed, Texas Organizing Project, and Disability Rights Texas; the groups urge Dallas ISD to divest from school policing especially given the uncertainly the district’s financial outlook due to the COVID19 pandemic.

Last year Dallas ISD spent nearly $24 million on safety and security.

Seventeen-million dollars went to pay for its police department.

In a letter to Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, the advocacy groups wrote, “The reality of that many students of color in particular actually feel less safe when officers are assigned to their campuses.”

Kendra Hollingsworth with Disability Rights Texas said this is also true for many students with disabilities.

“I have a lot of clients over the past 16 years that have been afraid to go to school every day because they don’t know what awaits them at the hands of a police officer,” she said.

The letter also references studies that show how black, Hispanic, as well as students with disabilities are more likely than other students to be suspended from school when officers are on campus.

Advocates also pointed out in the letter incidents when in a DISD police officer used excessive force when dealing with students, including when a DISD officer slammed a 12-year-old girl to the ground and pepper-sprayed her after the officer broke up a school fight in 2017 and when a 7-year-old student was tased and handcuffed by a DISD officer for a verbal outburst also in 2017.

Hinojosa told CBS 11 News he understands the concerns but said getting rid of the school police department is not the answer.

“When we think about Sandy Hook, Santa Fe, and all those other things, parents will never forgive us if something safety wise happens to their kids,” the superintendent said. “We depend on our police department for safety and security and we expect our officers to build relationships with students.”

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa (CBS 11)

The trend in Texas in recent years has been for school districts to start their own police departments – giving schools more control over the officers. There are 15 school police departments now in North Texas.

Public school districts in Minneapolis and Portland have recently moved to divest in school policing and reduce police officers’ presence on their campuses.