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Minority students are not signing up for the York City School District public safety academy, district officials said, amid the city's continued struggles to recruit black, Latino and female applicants to its police department.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” said high school Principal Brandon Carter at a Wednesday, Dec. 18, board meeting.

The district's public safety program, in which students train with firefighters, police officers and emergency responders and receive certifications in those areas, is in its second year. 

Though the program is popular with students, there hasn't been significant interest among minority students, even though York City is a majority-minority district, Carter said. 

And participation is not something officials want to force.

“Fire training is extremely expensive, and we don’t want to put them in there and miscounsel them if that’s not what they want to do,” said Superintendent Andrea Berry.

Since the program is only in its second year, Carter said, "you want to keep it growing," instead of pushing students who don't want to be there.

This comes on the heels of a recent move by the York City Police Department to partner with York College students in an effort to find out why it hasn’t been able to recruit many minority officers.

Ninety percent of the department’s officers are white, despite the makeup of the city they serve being 32% Latino and 26% black, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. 

And as of Thursday, Dec. 19, there were only two women within the department of about 100 officers.

More: York City Police looks to understand lack of diversity in its ranks

The number of police applicants in general has declined within the past 15 years, and the department has faced challenges in attaining more minority representation.

York City officials have expressed disappointment that more of the district’s black students have not applied to their own safety academies, said school board member Margie Orr. 

The academy program started with a survey course last year, and this year it's a full program with courses in law enforcement, health care, firefighting and emergency medical services, officials said last May.

It's the third of five planned career academies for the high school. 

More: York City schools to certify teens for public safety jobs in intensive 3-year program

York City School Police Chief Michael Muldrow had hoped the program would attract minority students, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Carter said sometimes it’s a matter of marketing the program, but it also just might not be of interest to black students.

“Unfortunately, that is the case in most urban areas,” Berry said. “We struggle to recruit teachers of color, we struggle to recruit first responders of color. It’s not that they’re necessarily not going into the profession, (they're) just not going into the profession here.”

More: York City mayor, activists agree on how to diversify police department

Carter said it could have something to do with the types of professions they are.

"Culturally, people of color aren’t trying to go into things that are going to put their lives at risk," he said. "They already have their life at risk in the city in certain areas."

Board member Michael Breeland suggested bringing in minorities already employed in emergency services to talk to students, which Carter said he has done. Breeland also advised having more career opportunities earlier than high school.

District Director of Pupil Services Lulu Thomas said students start talking about career paths as early as the fifth grade under the district's Chapter 339 school counseling plan.

More: Mock interviews test York City students for real world

The issue sometimes is keeping students interested in career opportunities and not just safety-related ones.

Carter said the district has used a career counselor to connect with agencies, such as the York County Alliance for Learning and York County Economic Alliance, but students often don't stay committed to the opportunities provided.

"I don’t want to continue to put ourselves out there and then let corporations down, and then be embarrassed and they say, 'We’re not coming back to your school," he said.

Carter said their lack of commitment also speaks to a trend among young people to go with what grabs their attention — instant gratification for money.

"That has been a trend with the generation in which we serve in," he said. "It’s the immediate piece.”

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