03/10/21: Police officers working directly in Salem Keizer Public Schools has been a contentious topic over the last eleven months, as community groups, parents, students, and teachers all have shared vocal opinions on the success and failures of the current in-school officers program. At last night’s Salem Keizer School Board meeting, Superintendent Christy Perry provided clarity regarding her intents to no longer deploy the law enforcement officers within our public schools, at least for the foreseeable future. Perry had previously elected to suspend contracts for this 2020-2021 school year. Now, this decision will carry into budget planning for the 2021-2022 school year. The eleven officers serving in public schools comes at a $1million price tag for the District, annually. District leaders and shift conversations to working with local shareholders on “how we can create schools that are emotionally, physically, and psychologically safe for all students that involve a different relationship with law enforcement.”
Here is the full transcript of Superintendent Perry’s address to the Salem Keizer School Board:
“I need to acknowledge that the decision about the role of law enforcement in schools and the ongoing discussion about school safety has taken longer than any of us would have liked. It has been nearly a year of dialogue with our Salem-Keizer community that has led to this moment and the conversation will continue for the next several months.
While the process has taken longer than I would have wanted, this time has given us the opportunities to have conversations with students, families, educators including school leaders and community members. In all of these conversations, people have repeatedly expressed the desire to have schools where all students feel included, have a strong sense of belonging, and have physical safety and security. I truly believe that it is within our collective power to create school communities that ensure physical and emotional safety.
For some people, school safety is intertwined with school resource officers. The SRO model was originally created following a national model that is predicated on the ability to develop strong relationships between officers and students that are forged with daily contact across a variety of settings. However, over time, the role of the SRO in the school district has experienced mission drift and has resulted in an SRO program that does not follow the national model of SRO’s. Due to expanded responsibilities of the SRO’s, officers have been spread too thin to actually create strong relationships with the majority of our students.
We have also heard from many of our students and parents of color that the presence of armed police officers in schools can result in emotional and psychological harm that makes them feel unsafe in our schools. Many of these students have told us time and again that the presence of armed police officers negatively impacts their mental health and is a barrier to them developing a strong sense of belonging.
It is for these reasons that I have decided to not renew the School Resource Contract. Making this decision at this point in time allows us to begin to imagine how we can create schools that are emotionally, physically, and psychologically safe for all students that involve a different relationship with law enforcement. We will continue to engage our students, families, community partners, staff, and administrators, in this important dialogue.
This doesn’t mean that we will not have any formal relationship or a contract with law enforcement moving forward. I do believe that a healthy and safe school system requires relationships with law enforcement particularly to support child abuse investigations, threat assessments, emergency response, and other key functions as long as that relationship with law enforcement is balanced with creating schools where all students feel safe and have a strong sense of belonging.”