Current and former Duluth Public Schools students are asking the School Board to cut ties with the Duluth Police Department and remove school resource officers. But the local teachers union says they are a valuable resource.
In a statement emailed to the News Tribune, Duluth Federation of Teachers President Ethan Fisher said school resource officers support both teachers and school administration on a daily basis to keep students safe.
“Over my 25 year career with (Duluth Public Schools), I have witnessed intense situations with students handled quickly and professionally by the school resource officer,” he said. “I have also watched students on a daily basis having positive interactions with our school resource officers.”
Fisher said the district has also worked closely with the police department to implement Active Shooter Civilian Response Training instruction “to improve safety measures in the event of an active threat.” He noted an incident in 2019 where East High School had an active threat, which was defused quickly due to the school resource officer and the district’s partnership with the police department.
“Having an adequate safety plan in place must be at the forefront of this consideration,” Fisher said.
Fisher said the achievement gap in Minnesota schools and the lack of counselors and mental health professionals needs to be addressed. He also said Duluth’s disciplinary policies should be reviewed.
“These examples, along with many others, can only happen when our educational system receives the funding necessary to address the growing social and emotional needs our students come to school with every day,” Fisher said. “There is room for improvement. At the forefront, we remain committed to support the learning needs of our students.”
President of Education Minnesota Denise Specht said whether school resource officers need to be in schools should be left up to individual districts. Education Minnesota is a statewide educators union with around 80,000 members from pre-K-12 schools and higher education.
“Unfortunately, there are places in Minnesota where innocent children are afraid of the police because of long histories of police brutality and discrimination in communities of Black, Brown and Indigenous families,” she said in a statement emailed to the News Tribune. “When that happens, schools can’t be both safe and welcoming places for students and appropriate worksites for police officers.
"Frightened children don’t learn very well in those environments. It’s also a challenging environment for educators of all kinds to work in.”
Specht said she doesn’t expect every school to remove its police officers, “but it will be the right choice in some districts.”
“It’s up to local educators, administrators and parents of color to have honest conversations about this issue and come to the right decision for their local schools,” she said.