The Duluth School Board unanimously passed a resolution of support for school resource officers for the 2020-21 school year late Tuesday night.
The resolution gives district administrators permission to negotiate a new contract for school resource officers with the city of Duluth, but the contract and contract language will need to be approved by the School Board at a later date.
The resolution also states that district administration will “launch dialogue sessions with high school student groups to discuss issues of equity, race and power” as well as talk with “impacted communities’ experience of, and perspective on, the school resource officer program and seriously consider that input for possible structural or contractual changes if future contracts are pursued.”
The School Board spent 45 minutes listening to recorded messages for public comment and then read more than 35 emails to the board into record. All of the messages and emails meant for public comment were regarding a new contract with the Duluth Police Department for school resource officers.
Many of those who submitted comments in support of school resource officers in the schools spoke of an incident at East High School on April 5, 2019, where 35-year-old Travis Anthony John Warner Busch was arrested in the back of the school cafeteria after allegedly making a series of threats in messages with a family member, describing how he could shoot up a school or theater, and expressed plans to kill police officers.
Yes 84% No 11% I need more information 5%
Do you support having school resource officers in Duluth Public Schools?
Thank you for voting!
I need more information
Many of those who submitted comments asking for the removal of school resource officers cited the “school-to-prison pipeline” and the district’s disproportionate discipline of students of color.
Superintendent John Magas brought the resolution forward so the district could begin the planning process of either moving forward with the school resource officer program or planning for an alternative option.
Magas said the School Board and administration received an email signed by 12 school counselors expressing support for the school resource officer program, saying that “systemic inequality and fear that many of our students face cannot easily be alleviated overnight or with a simple solution.”
“In our view, school resource officers serve a vital role in our buildings. Although safety is an important part of what they do, the word resource is a much more accurate description of their daily function in our schools,” board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp read from the email sent to the board by the school counselors. “School resource officers develop and maintain key relationships with some of the most at-risk students. In addition, they help with concerns about bullying, problems at home, social media, and alcohol awareness and prevention.”
Nabiha Imtiaz and Phoenix Ocean, student representatives on the board, gave a presentation during their reports in support of removing school resource officers from schools.
“School resource officers can contribute to an unwelcome learning environment for all students, especially students of color,” Imtiaz said.
Though the resolution passed unanimously, many board members said they struggled with the decision. Board member Kelly Durick Eder said she had been searching for the right words for days to express how she felt.
“There are inevitably going to be situations that happen in our middle and high schools where law enforcement is going to be absolutely necessary and are going to have to be there,” she said. “What worries me and weighs heavily on my heart is thinking about an officer coming into our schools that doesn't have the training, doesn't have the mindset, doesn't have the desire to be a police officer in a school setting and doesn't have the experience needed that is important in dealing with situations that arise in school.”
On the other side, Durick Eder said she also understands that having officers in the schools might create preconceived notions about students as well as “some implicit and explicit biases that can be, are and do happen within our schools toward students of color, Black and Indigenous students.”
Board members pressed the importance of having future conversations regarding school resource officers, which the resolution explicitly guarantees, and holding themselves accountable to make sure that happens.
Imtiaz, a non-voting member of the board, said she took issue with the notion of allowing conversations to occur as a way of enacting change.
“Saying that allowing the conversation is change, I think, is an extremely privileged thing to say,” Imtiaz said. “I just really take issue with that because just saying something is not action.”
Magas told the News Tribune the district is committed to having those conversations and making changes.
“I really want to assure the community of Duluth that this is something we are really committed to going deep on as well as the issue of systemic structures,” he said.
As far as the contract goes, Magas said he will need to sit down with district leadership and the city of Duluth to determine where they are in the process of negotiating a contract for the board to vote on at a later date.
This story was updated at 12:04 a.m. July 22 with more information and quotes from the Duluth School Board meeting. It was originally posted at 11:20 p.m. July 21.