Lynnwood High School Tuesday night joined the list of Edmonds School District high schools that will no longer have a police officer.
Seven weeks ago, the Edmonds School Board voted to remove police officers from Edmonds-Woodway, Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace high schools but postponed a vote on Lynnwood, pending a safety review.
At its Tuesday, Aug. 11 business meeting, the board voted unanimously to cancel the contract with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, which provided an officer at Lynnwood High School.
The board’s decision reflected community concerns following the death of George Floyd — an unarmed Black man who died at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer in May. Floyd’s death renewed discussions both locally and nationally about whether having police officers in schools was in the best interest of all students, particularly students of color. Since, the board has been under pressure from many in the community to remove law enforcement officers – officially known as school resource officers or SROs — from schools.
“We’ve heard really compelling discussion on why police embedded in our schools is harmful to many of our students,” said Board President Deborah Kilgore.
The SRO program was set up through interlocal agreements between the district and local law enforcement agencies, which defined the SRO’s role at the school.
The board voted unanimously in June to cut ties with the Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace police departments, which supplied SROs to three of the schools. However, it decided to postpone a decision regarding Lynnwood High School’s SRO pending development of a safety plan for the school in the event of an on-campus emergency. The concern came from long response times — more than 30 minutes — due to the campus’ location in unincorporated Snohomish County. As a result, the school has consistently had an officer on campus longer than other district high schools, even when the program was halted during the recession in 2010.
Recently, district leaders held a community forum to allow community members to provide feedback on the program. Though some have spoken in support of the SRO program, the district has received a larger number of people — both white people and people of color — asking that the board eliminate the program. Prior to the Aug. 11 vote, the board read dozens of submitted comments, many from people asking once again that the board remove the SRO at Lynwood High School.
In her submitted comment read by Director Gary Noble, former-Edmonds-Woodway High School alumna Olivia Morris said having SROs on campus is harmful for students of color and only reinforces the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately targets students of color and pushes them out of schools and into the juvenile/criminal justice system.
“As a nation, we have seen so many recent examples of police misconduct and brutality,” she wrote. “The system of policing at its current form is, at its best, outdated and our children in the Edmonds School District deserve the best possible education, especially during these times.”
Tiffany Muskrat, in a comment read by Director Nancy Katims, said the district could better serve students by investing in more mental health services and social supports.
“Let our vulnerable populations know we support them” she wrote. “Establish inclusive practices and demonstrate our support by separating education from law enforcement. Let kids be kids, stop testing them as probable criminals.”
In place of the SRO program, district staff have proposed reinstating the liaison officer model program. Under the program, officers from local agencies would be assigned high schools in their jurisdiction that they would monitor and respond to in the event of an emergency, if they are available. In the event the primary liaison is unavailable, a back-up liaison will take that officer’s place.
Instead of walking the campus halls, the liaison officer would periodically check in on the campus while patrolling and work with school administrators to establish a safety plan for the campus, said Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab.
“They would be a resource to schools for those non-emergencies that oftentimes do require some police officer intervention,” he said. “Custody disputes, parenting plans, court orders that need to be enforced, drug and alcohol concerns and also make themselves available for class presentations as needed.”
The district previously used the model in 2010-18 when it was forced to put a hold on the SRO program due to budget cuts. Unlike the SRO program, the liaison program is free.
Schwab said he plans to bring the idea before the sheriff’s office this week to see if they would be willing to partner with the distinct for the liaison program for Lynnwood High School. The board will continue the discussion at its next meeting on Aug. 25.
–By Cody Sexton