Recent discussions regarding race and police brutality toward people of color have renewed Edmonds School District officials’ conversation about whether to continue the district’s practice of having a police officer on school campuses.
At the Edmonds School Board’s June 9 business meeting, the board of directors had a lengthy discussion on whether the district should renew contracts with local law enforcement to provide police officers — known as school resource officers or SROs — on high school campuses. Instead, the board would take time to review whether having SROs on campuses is in the best interest of students’ safety.
The board opened the discussion by reading public comments submitted by parents and community members both imploring the district to remove SROs from school campuses and supporting the program in the name of students’ safety.
In her submitted comment, district speech pathologist Melissa Petersen said SROs are more likely to arrest students of color rather than having those students be disciplined by school administrators. She also said that there is little to no evidence that having police on campuses decrease on-campus violence or prevent school shootings.
“I hope that the school board will listen to our community members of color, our Black leaders, and our indigenous neighbors, and end all contracts with police departments to host SROs on Edmonds School District campuses,” she said.
Recently, a petition requesting that the district immediately cancel its contracts with local law enforcement agencies to staff schools with SROs has circulated among parents and has more than 900 signatures. One petitioner, Edmonds resident Jeanne Petty, suggested that the district invest in more counselors instead of police.
“In the midst of all this we see cities and school districts around the country acknowledging that this is the correct path forward and making bold moves to shift funding away from policing and towards other services that keep our communities safe and serve all of our students and families,” she said.
However, Lynnwood resident Catrin Riggs said removing SROs would leave students vulnerable to danger from threats both in and out of schools. Additionally, Riggs said that student relationships with law enforcement could benefit from SROs.
“Instead of disconnecting from local police, we should bring members of the police departments into our schools to dispel the fears, the backlash, and the blame,” she said. “We should work to heal the heartache of the tragic incidents, and include police in our kids’ experiences, so that they understand and appreciate the true purpose of police.”
The SRO program is set up through an interlocal agreement between the district and local law enforcement agencies, which define the SRO’s role at the school. Currently, Lynnwood, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway high schools have SROs. Involved agencies include the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace police departments.
This is not the first time the board has had requests to discontinue the SRO program. Last year, a new SRO was proposed for Scriber Lake High School in Edmonds and the district received pushback from parents and students from the neighboring Edmonds Heights K-12 school.
Both are alternative schools located on the former Woodway High School campus, with Edmonds Heights serving elementary- through high school-age students who do their studies both at home and at school. Scriber Lake, meanwhile, is a grade 9-12 high school that has many at-risk and special-needs students.
Because the police officers are armed, parents expressed concerns about the trauma that some children — and even some adults — will experience when seeing a gun in a school setting, and whether students of color would be treated fairly given the level of disproportionate discipline already occurring for students of color in the district.
At the Tuesday night meeting, the board discussed whether the district should renew contracts — set to expire at the end of this month — with the Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace police departments. A 60-day notice from the date of board-voted approval is required to terminate the contracts. During the discussion, the decision not to renew the contracts had general favor from the board.
Before making a decision, the board debated whether more information was needed to make a decision on canceling the program. Director Nancy Katims suggested that the board conduct a survey asking high school students how safe having an SRO on campus makes them feel.
“The kids are the stakeholders here,” she said. “They’re the ones who see the SROs everyday (and) they’re the ones who either benefit or don’t benefit from the SROs being there.”
However, Director Carin Chase pointed out that the board has already received feedback from parents and students regarding the SRO program during board meetings and community forums.
“I think it’s very important to acknowledge that our communities of color have stepped up and have given us input,” she said.
The board also has other factors to consider before eliminating the program. Unlike other schools that have contracts with city police department, Lynnwood High School’s contract is with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office due to the campus being located in unincorporated Snohomish County. Additionally, Director Gary Noble said the school has a higher response time due to its proximity from law enforcement agencies. Before terminating the contract, Noble said the district should have a safety plan in place in the event of an emergency at the school.
“I have no problem suspending the SRO program at Lynnwood, but I don’t want to do it until there’s a safety plan in place to replace it,” he said.
The board will hold a study session June 16 via Zoom to allow students and parents an opportunity to provide additional feedback on the SRO program before voting at its June 23 business meeting on whether to renew the two contacts.
In other business, the board unanimously voted to approve the following:
– an agreement between the district and the Foundation for Edmonds School District to allow the foundation to maintain a physical presence at the Educational Services Center.
– two public works contracts for baseball field and tennis court improvements at Meadowdale and Edmonds-Woodway high schools.
– appointing representatives to complete an application for federal and/or state disaster assistance to fund the district’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
– a request by the district’s English Learners (EL) Department to purchase a three-year contract for Ellevation Data software. District staff said the software ensures that the key data needed to meet diverse program requirements are in one convenient place.
Also during the meeting, the board bid farewell to Superintendent Kris McDuffy who announced her retirement in August after leading the district since 2016.
Board President Deborah Kilgore praised McDuffy’s work with the district, which included passing a race and equity policy, diversifying the workforce, updating the curriculum and refreshing several outdated policies.
“It takes a lot to make changes in a big district and (McDuffy) has made a lot of significant progress in several areas,” she said. “There are many elements of our complex district that are better now than how (she) found them.”
Staff presented a video celebrating McDuffy’s 37-year career in education, which can be viewed here. The tribute video featured photos as well video messages from McDuffy’s colleagues who sent well wishes and shared memories about their time working with her.
Former-Executive Director of Equity and Public Relations Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong — who was recently named assistant superintendent of educational services for Tamalpais Union High School District in northern California — said McDuffy inspired her to be a better person and helped her during times when she experienced racial injustice.
“I think it was the first time in my entire career in public education where I felt 100% comfortable in my own skin sharing about some of the feelings that I was having in that moment,” she said. “Aside from being a wonderful instructional leader, an amazing person, a thoughtful and caring and a kind human, she is accepting and she inspires.”
–By Cody Sexton