In response to concerns from Edmonds Heights K-12 parents, the Edmonds School District is taking another look at its plan to place a police officer next fall at Scriber Lake High School, which shares a campus with Edmonds Heights.
Scriber Lake and Edmonds Heights are co-located at the former Woodway High School, which is located off 100th Avenue West in Edmonds. Both are alternative schools and both enroll students from across the Edmonds School District. Edmonds Heights is a parent-partnered program that serves elementary- through high school-age students who do their studies both at home and at school. Scriber Lake is a grade 9-12 high school that has many at-risk and special-needs students.
After hearing about the plan to hire the police officer, known as a School Resource Officer or SRO, through an interlocal agreement with the City of Edmonds for the 2019-20 school year, several Edmonds Heights parents and students came to the April 23 school board meeting to state their concerns about the idea.
Those worries were repeated and amplified during an Edmonds Heights parent meeting April 25 with Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Greg Schwab.
“I’ve heard feedback from a lot of parents that this a decision that was already made and they don’t have a voice,” said Edmonds Heights parent Reita Johnson. “And I’ve also heard feedback that as far as the wording of student resource officer, it doesn’t seem very transparent. What you think of when you hear ‘student resource officer’ is not a uniformed, armed police officer.”
Several parents present talked about the trauma that some children — and even some adults — will experience when seeing a gun in a school setting. That possibility is especially worrisome for parents with students who already suffer from anxiety. There were also questions about whether SROs would treat students of color fairly, given the level of disproportionate discipline that is already occurring for students of color in the district.
In addition, parents stated concerns about giving a police officer access to the students’ private data. Since the SROs are considered part of the school faculty — and some even teach criminal justice classes — they are able to log in to each school’s Skyward account, which includes individual student records.
“The police now have access to my children’s private information and that is so massively wrong and not OK,” said parent Alanna Milan.
Schwab said he was committed to listening to all viewpoints, and would share all of the feedback with district officials. He also spent some time explaining the history of the School Resource Officer program in the school district.
School Resource Officers were located at all four of the district’s comprehensive high schools — Edmonds-Woodway, Lynnwood, Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace — until budget cuts in 2010-11 eliminated the positions, with one exception. The district chose to keep the SRO at Lynnwood High School because the school’s location in unincorporated Snohomish County can mean a slow police response from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. (The other schools are served by police departments from the respective cities in which they are located, and thus responses are faster.)
During the 2014-15 school year, the school board began exploring the idea of re-establishing SROs in the schools where they had been previously, and began developing agreements with local cities in which each high school was located, Schwab said. The Lynnwood Police Department restored its SRO to Meadowdale High School in the 2017-18 school year and SROs returned to Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway high schools last fall.
The district picks up half the cost of the SRO — in this case $54,000 — funded through the district’s safety and security budget. The other half is covered by the local jurisdiction — for the Scriber Lake SRO, it would be the City of Edmonds.
In the absence of SROs, schools had support from local police departments through the 911 system. In addition, a school liaison officer from each city would stop into each school and check in as part of the officer’s regular patrol. While the high schools received a high level of response from their respective jurisdictions, the response was sometimes dependent on what else was going on in the community, Schwab noted.
He then listed what he believes are “the two most important reasons” for schools to consider having a School Resource Officer. First, officers who respond to high schools for 911 calls don’t have specific training to work in the schools, and second, those officers also don’t have established relationships with the students and staff.
The Woodway Campus, comprising both Edmonds Heights and Scriber Lake schools — had 135 calls to 911 for police matters in 2017-18. So far in this school year, there have been 90 police calls, Schwab said.
The school district is clear about defining the role of SROs in the schools, based on recommendations from the American Civil Liberties Union, “who not surprisingly are not fans of SROs in schools, but recognize they are a reality and so provide guidelines,” Schwab said. These include elements such as making sure each SRO is a member of the school faculty, that they are defined as a resource for students, that their primary role in addition to safety and security “is to build positive working relationships with students and staff,” with an emphasis on community policing, he added.
Schwab said that the SRO is not involved in school discipline, noting that that role is left to school administrators. “He’s not there to arrest students,” Schwab said, adding that SROs also are not involved in immigration enforcement.
SRO candidates have to apply for their job and in the case of Edmonds police, they have to have five years of experience. Once selected, all SROs go through training that includes ethics, diversity, understanding students with special needs (including working with students who are on autism spectrum and have emotional regulation issues), sex trafficking of youth, threat response, preventing violence in school settings, and school safety and emergency response plans.
SROs also attend school district-provided training to understand district policies in a variety of areas, including discipline procedures and race and equity.
“The police officers that are SROs, choose to be SROs,” Schwab said. “They are there because they want to work with kids and that’s their passion.”
Parents speaking out April 25 weren’t convinced, however, that a police officer was needed on the Woodway Campus — or at least, not needed for Edmonds Heights students. Due to the collaborative approach to their children’s education, there are always a large numbers of parents on the Edmonds Heights campus, and many of them have already received active shooter training, they added.
Schwab pledged to conduct an extensive survey of both Edmonds Heights and Scriber Lake parents to ensure that as many opinions as possible were gathered. He also said the district would work with the school’s equity teams to make sure the results fairly represented those who might be most impacted by the SRO decision — such as students of color and those with special needs.
But several parents were concerned about the tight time frame for gathering such data, given that end of the school year is fast approaching and the SRO is proposed to start work in the fall.
Parent Chris Forgy said there needed to be more transparent communication about the issue to parents. “I think there are a lot of people that have a voice who need to be heard who are not here,” he said, adding it would make sense to delay the decision a year so that the issue could be fully explored.
Forgy, who is white but has multiracial children, told Schwab that his 7-year-old daughter overheard his parents talking about having a police officer on campus and said she no longer wanted to come to school. Anxiety at Edmonds Heights about the issue, he said, reflects “what has been going on in society as a whole.”
Forgy added that he and his wife have told their daughter, “You need to act a certain way around police officers. She’s not a white male like I am or you are. We have a lot of privilege that they (his daughters) aren’t going to have and so there are things they have to be very cautious of.
“I can’t emphasize it early enough for her because there’s enough going on in society, because there is a huge distrust with law enforcement,” he added.
Parents also asked what the data on the existing SRO officers has shown in the district’s other high schools, in terms of how they interact with students.
Schwab replied he is currently doing data collection that includes the number of students who have been arrested; tickets, citations and summons issued; and any students who are involved in search and seizure or who are questioned by police. The district will also disaggregate data by age, gender, race, ethnicity and gender status, he said, adding that the data will be shared with school board at end of May and also be published on district website.
In addition, Schwab was asked if the district had considered alternatives to the SRO model to improve school safety on the Woodway campus. “We haven’t yet,” he replied. “The bottom line, it’s about safety, whatever we do.
“I just want our schools to be safe places,” Schwab continued. “I want kids not to worry about threats from the outside. But if it means we can get at that standard of safety differently, then we need to talk about that.”
A parent asked why the community wasn’t consulted when the school board began talking in 2014 about reintroducing SROs into the schools.
“I think there were some assumptions made,” Schwab said. “A lot has changed since the school district had SROs in last 10 years, and we are more aware of relationships between police and communities of color.
“When we last had SROs, it was just what we did,” Schwab added. “I think a thing we learned very quickly, it’s not as simple as it may have seemed.”
Schwab emphasized that the SRO hiring for the Woodway campus is at this point a proposal open for discussion. Based on the concerns expressed by Edmonds Heights parents, Schwab said he has talked to both School Superintendent Kris McDuffy and Edmonds Chief of Police Al Compaan about the issue, and told them that “given the community concerns this may not be the thing to do.”
— By Teresa Wippel