Minneapolis Public Schools officials on Tuesday night outlined a contract that would shrink the number of Minneapolis Police Department officers in schools from 16 to 14. The idea faces a school board vote in August.
It’s a plan “that offers the welcoming and safe environment that all of our students and staff deserve,” said Superintendent Ed Graff at the meeting.
Minneapolis schools surveyed almost 7,000 students, 700 staff and 600 parents, and the majority in each group said that school resource officers (SROs) should be in schools, adding that SROs make them feel safe in buildings. However, almost half the students surveyed said they wished to reduce the time SROs spend in their schools.
Police in schools has been a hotly debated subject metrowide and nationally. Supporters of SROs say they help ease school safety concerns. Others contend that they can be threatening and discriminatory.
The new plan would drop the district’s contract with the police department from almost $1.28 million to $1.15 million for the coming school year. The district said it could use the $130,000 in savings for more training and support of its SROs. The plan to reduce and support SROs is the best compromise, said district chief operations officer Karen DeVet.
In September, the school board voted for a contract extension with the Minneapolis Police Department for officers in schools, even after community members voiced concerns. The board is slated to vote on the three-year contract with the Minneapolis Police Department in August.
Looming in the background of the discussion are the fatal shootings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, both of which rocked communities for weeks afterward. The morning after a jury found officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty in Castile’s shooting, community members gathered for a previously planned discussion of police in schools. It was one of a few feedback sessions Minneapolis schools held in June on the topic.
During a public comment period, some speakers said they think police are intimidating figures in school buildings and questioned the district’s use of resources. “It is not necessary to have SROs in schools to be safe,” said Fadumo Ali, an organizer with the Black Liberation Project.
Minneapolis Principals Forum President Carla Steinbach spoke on behalf of the district’s more than 100 principals and assistant principals in support of the administration’s recommendation to keep a contract.
The district’s proposed amended contract would put officers in “soft uniforms” of khakis and polo shirts, evaluate SROs and clarify their role in schools.
The district shared data on school crime referrals to the county attorney’s office over the past 10 years. They showed drops in disorderly conduct crime referrals in both Minneapolis and Hennepin County schools.
Nine officers work in schools in St. Paul. The St. Paul School District also will consider a proposal in August to reduce the number of SROs. Going from nine to seven in 2017-18 would drop the district’s costs from $884,499 to $697,974.
In 2016-17, St. Paul worked to have SROs play less of an enforcement role in the schools, and the number of student arrests fell from 56 to five.