By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
School Resource Officers will no longer be on campus in three Edmonds School District high schools, with the decision for the continuation of police presence in an additional high school tabled to later this summer.
The Edmonds School Board voted unanimously 5-0 to discontinue the Edmonds School District’s (ESD) Schools Resource Officer (SRO) Program in Edmonds-Woodway, Meadowdale, and Mountlake Terrace high schools, ending the districts relationship with the Edmonds, Lynnwood, and Mountlake Terrace police departments, during its June 23 business meeting.
The School Board postponed their vote regarding the presence of an SRO in Lynnwood High School, contracted through the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Office, to its August 11 meeting, due to concerns of law enforcement response time in the case of an emergency.
The Edmonds School District is comprised of five director districts: Carin Chase, Director District 1 and Legislative Representative, Gary Noble, District 3 and Vice President, Deborah Kilgore, District 4 and President, Ann McMurry, Director District 2, and Nancy Katims, District 5. Kilgore and McMurry are up for re-election in 2021; whereas the other members’ terms end in 2023.
Less than a week prior, the Edmonds School Board held a virtual community town hall on June 17, discussing the SRO program, a collective agreement between the district and local police agencies placing an officer in schools, where an audience of more than 100 people participated in the forum to voice their views on the roles, responsibilities, and broader impact of SROs in the ESD.
In opening remarks, ESD Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab described the school resource officers’ intended responsibilities, saying they are present to keep students safe, act as ambassadors from law enforcement to students, forage positive relationships between the school and community, and provide mentorship to students.
During community comments, advocates wanting to maintain the district’s relationship with the police department said that SROs help students feel safe during emergencies and foster positive connections between students and law enforcement.
“The whole purpose of this position…is to foster positive relationship and fellowship between officers and all students, especially marginalized students who may not have had to opportunity in their life to build this kind of positive relationship with a police officer,” said Lynnwood City Councilmember Shannon Sessions, after introducing herself as a mother of five ESD students and alumni, the wife of a first responder, executive director of Support7- a nonprofit that serves alongside first responders, and a previous Crime Prevention Specialist and Public Information Officer for the Lynnwood Police Department.
Sessions also mentioned SROs are there for the safety and wellbeing of all students and school staff, saying that after numerous years of working with and in the law enforcement agency, there’s an unfortunate but realistic need for having a police officer who is familiar to a school and its students.
Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong, ESD’s Executive Director of Equity and Public Relations, announced she has always been and always will be in support of SROs, based on her first-hand knowledge of the support and resources they provided during her eight years of experience as a school administrator. She also reiterated the importance of having an officer on campus familiar with students and staff.
“When a crime happens on campus because crimes do happen and will continue to happen, we prefer that a police officer who doesn’t know our kids or our school show up?” said Armstrong posing a rhetorical question to viewers. “What group do you think will be the most impacted by that?”
Continuing, Armstrong identified herself as a Black woman and noted that while she doesn’t speak for all people of color, ESD should not be hyper focused on the presence of SRO officers, but rather actively working to confront the structure of its systemic racism that she notes “has students struggling in a system that was not built for them,” shown in the districts educational achievement gaps.
“Our biggest threat in schools isn’t school resource officers, the biggest threat is the soft bigotry of low expectations,” continued Armstrong.
But advocates in favor of ending the ESD relationship with police noted during the meeting that the presence of SROs disproportionately harms students of color, saying that their presence creates fear in the school environment which can block a students’ ability to retain information specifically from not feeling safe.
“It is empirically true that students cannot learn if students are living in fear. The police presence is not calming… especially students of color,” stated Joseph Erikson, an ethnic studies teacher in the district, after explaining that his job is to teach students about systemic oppression.
Erikson continued, stating that the sense of security and safety SROs offer extends to the district’s loudest voices, its white students, families, and school staff.
“I know that some people here… come from a culture where you feel protected and safe when the police are around,” said Erikson. “Many students of color do not have that sense of security and don’t feel that same way around cops.”
Erikson and other community members in favor of ending the ESD’s relationship with police also noted that they want to see the resources allocated towards funding SROs go towards mental health professionals and guidance counselors at schools to expand student support.
Rita Johnston, a parent of a student in the district and an active member of the ESD Equity and Alliance Leadership Team, said that she has been involved for the past year and a half with the discussion of ESD’s SRO renewal. She remarks that the district’s students have repeatedly asked for what they want.
“Our students have asked for what they wanted,” said Johnston. “They want more counselors…our students of color have very clearly told us, told you, told the community what they need and what they want to feel safe in their school to have an equitable learning environment… the students don’t want SROs.”
Jeanne Petty, one of the parents involved in drafting a letter asking that the district end its relationship with local police agencies, provided an update on an online petition created for community members to sign. Petty stated that within the past two weeks, the petition has accumulated 1,100 signatures, which she says includes 200 students, 100 faculty members, and 300 families and community members.
“We know that having officers in our schools is a source of stress and trauma for vulnerable students… that should be enough in itself,” said Petty.
No update or discussion was provided by a participant during the forum about a different petition that has been circulating advocating that the ESD maintain its relationship with SROs, but its petition site reports that it has received 267 signatures, as of the June 17 meeting.
The forum ended, with the district announcing that they have sent out an anonymous survey to students at the district’s schools asking them to recount positive or negative interactions with SROs, and if and why they do or don’t feel safe with the officers on campus.
“It was critical that the Board heard and continue to hear from our students on this and other issues,” said School Board President Dr. Deborah Kilgore in a June 23 press release addressing the meeting’s community participation and the student survey intent. “It is unacceptable that students are hurting and feel unsafe in our schools. We are determined to review our current school safety plans and will make the systemic changes necessary to ensure the safety and wellness of all students.”
Carin Chase, ESD Director for District 1 and Legislative Representative, provided the following statement to the Lynnwood Times. “I so respect the students, families and community members who have engaged in this issue. We hear you and look forward to continuing the conversation together as we discuss what makes a safe community and a safe school for all of our students – Black Lives Matter.”