Student representatives from Denfeld and East high schools asked the Duluth School Board to consider removing school resource officers (SROs) during a meeting Tuesday night.

Both schools have a student representative that sits as a non-voting member on the Duluth School Board. Nabiha Imtiaz represents East and Phoenix Ocean represents Denfeld. They shared a joint statement Tuesday night.

“While SROs may have a positive impact on some students, that’s not the reality for many others,” Ocean said.

Imtiaz continued, “The achievement gap between students of color and white students is a big issue for the district, and we believe shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline will greatly help in closing the achievement gap.”

She went on to say that having trained professionals with specific training for mental health and drug-related issues would be better than police officers “who can make us feel scared to ask for help.”

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“It’s incredibly important for mediation instead of punishment to help build a stronger community and better prepare students for the future,” Imtiaz said.

Duluth Public Schools students have started an online petition asking the school district to “cut all ties with the Duluth Police Department (DPD) and other punitive law enforcement bodies.” As of Tuesday night, the petition had 146 signatures, 117 of which are current or former students.

The letter, written by the students, says other school districts have decided to cut ties with law enforcement and it’s time for Duluth Public Schools to do the same thing. Minneapolis Public Schools cut ties with law enforcement and school resource officers shortly after the death of a black Minneapolis man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Other schools around the country have followed suit.

“As student representatives, we believe it is our job to stand in solidarity with and support our peers in the black community,” Imtiaz said during the meeting. “We believe that removing the presence of police in our schools will improve the learning environment for all students. Please remember that until Black Lives Matter, not all lives matter.”

The Duluth School Board is expected to vote on a new contract with the Duluth Police Department to provide school resource officers. The current contract, which cost nearly $500,000 for two years, is expiring. The board plans to hold a committee of the whole meeting to allow representatives from the police department to explain what the role of a school resource officer is.