Forum to discuss Portland school safety after SROs

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Members of the public will have the opportunity next week to discuss how to promote safety in city schools now that school resource officers are no longer present.

The discussion will take place in a virtual forum Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 6-8 p.m. via Zoom. 

The forum will explore topics including the relationship between Portland Public Schools and the Police Department, and what factors contribute to safe and welcoming schools.

Tess Nacelewicz, communications coordinator for the School Department, said in order to foster meaningful dialogue about safety in schools, registration for the forum will be limited, although the department expects to be able to support “upwards of 100 participants.”

“This dialogue will inform the work of the Policy Committee as the committee develops revisions to the policies that refer to law enforcement over the next few months,” Nacelewicz said in a Feb.12 email.

The forum follows the School Board’s decision to remove school resource officers from all city schools last July in a 7-2 vote, with board members Sarah Thompson and Mark Balfantz in the minority. 

The vote backed a resolution by Emily Figdor, who now chairs the board, and at-large member Roberto Rodriguez. The resolution cited the disproportionate killings of black people by police nationwide, in addition to the killings of black people in Portland. 

It also cited local and national research showing SROs have a negative impact on schools and called for the $152,000 that would be saved by ending the program to be used on security enhancements, professional development for staff, and equity investments.

The board held seven hours of discussion and public comment before the vote, which also followed a call by Black Lives Matter Portland last June for Portland and Deering high schools to remove police officers.

Next week’s discussion also comes after the city selected Clifton Larsen Allen LLP to conduct an investigation into the Portland Police Department’s response to a protest about the killing of George Floyd that began on June 1, 2020, and ended early the next morning.

Nacelewicz did not respond to questions about options the School Department is exploring to ensure school safety for students in the wake of the removal of SROs, or to what extent funds formerly used for officer salaries will be used to fund alternative solutions.

However, she said via email on Feb. 16 that city schools have expanded behavioral health continuums, among other measures, to support school safety this year. She also said funds previously used for the contract with the Portland Police Department remain in the budget to advance equitable and safe school culture.

In response to those who disagreed with the decision to remove SROs, Nacelewicz said the schools hope they come to understand that the program was “an example of the over-policing of BIPOC communities” and that research has shown such programs do not increase school safety.

People interested in attending the forum must sign up online at https://bit.ly/3s0aLnc by Feb. 18 at 3 p.m., although signing up does not guarantee registration. Registered participants will be emailed a Zoom link no later than Monday, Feb. 22.