St. Paul Public Schools on Tuesday night became the latest in a growing number of urban school districts to remove police officers from its schools.
The school board voted 5-1 to cease talks with the city’s Police Department to continue deploying seven school resource officers (SROs). As with other districts, the move was spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Change is not going to happen absent a push,” said Board Member Steve Marchese, who presented the proposal. It calls for district leaders to develop an interim school safety plan for board discussion in August.
As such, the move to cut ties with police and to come up with a new plan to keep students and staff safe mirrored action taken by the Minneapolis school board this month. There, the action came eight days after Floyd’s death, and with a harder edge by portraying Minneapolis police as having a “blatant disregard for black lives.”
Portland, Denver and Milwaukee school districts also have severed ties with their police departments. Chicago schools are set to take up the issue on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s action came the day after more than 125 students and supporters rallied at St. Paul’s Central High around the message “SROs Have Got To Go.” Students and alumni spoke of how the $775,000 budgeted for SROs in 2019-20 could be better spent on teachers of color and other staff members who could support students.
“This is an institution of learning, not an institution of fear, and it’s not fair for students to feel like they’re not safe,” said Mickies Kiros, who is Ethiopian and graduated from Central this year.
Videos posted by the group Root & Restore St. Paul, a rally cosponsor, showed people honking car horns near the homes of Marchese and colleague Jessica Kopp in efforts to win their support.
On Tuesday, Marchese referenced the incident as having startled his dog and some of his neighbors.
He took the opportunity to send a message, too, that it was one thing to protest, and another to stick around for the “real work,” and that people should be prepared to pitch in as the district reimagines its safety and security plans.
Board Member Chauntyll Allen, a Black Lives Matter organizer, said the vote was a long time coming.
“I think our students are going to be safer. They’re going to feel safer,” she said. “Our focus needs to be on student achievement.”
The St. Paul district and Police Department worked hard in recent years to make the SROs a more positive presence in the schools, and a Minnesota student survey this year revealed strong support among a majority of St. Paul respondents.
The district had planned to conduct a survey of its own about the officers this year, but it was derailed by the pandemic, spokesman Kevin Burns said.