Fueled by calls to remove police officers from schools, the Edmonds School Board unanimously voted Tuesday to cut ties with three local law enforcement agencies and postpone a decision on a fourth until later this year pending an in-depth school safety review.
After several discussions on whether police officers — also known as school resource officers or SROs — belong on high school campuses, the board voted 5-0 at its June 23 business meeting not to renew contracts with the cities of Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, removing SROs from Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace high schools. The board also voted 5-0 to terminate a current interlocal agreement with the City of Edmonds, pulling the SRO from Edmonds-Woodway High School.
“Given the facts of our highly-dangerous national and state systems of policing, supervision and incarceration, by being housed in our high schools — no matter how helpful and beloved they are — police are a real risk to many of our students and they contribute to stress and bad health for hundreds of children,” said Board President Deborah Kilgore.
The SRO program is set up through an interlocal agreement between the district and local law enforcement agencies, which define the SRO’s role at the school. Four high schools, including Lynnwood, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway, had SROs. Involved agencies included the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds police departments, respectively.
After voting to remove SROs, the board said it would review the safety plans currently in place and will make necessary changes for all students to feel safe in school. Incoming Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas — who was sworn into his new position at the start of the meeting — requested a one-year period to bring a new safety plan to the board.
“Having the board review the overall safety and wellness plans for the district and how all the pieces fit together is an essential first element to various functions of safety and wellness in the system,” he said.
The decision came after recent civil unrest in response to the death of George Floyd and other Black men and women at the hands of white police officers. It has prompted a renewed discussion both locally and nationally about whether having police officers in schools was in the best interest of all students, particularly students of color.
For months, community members have appealed to the board to remove SROs from schools on the grounds that students of color are more likely to be discriminated against than their white peers. The board has been gathering feedback from students, parents and district staff across all levels speaking for or against placing SROs in schools. In addition to submitting public comments, community members both for and against SROs spoke during a virtual forum held last week, allowing the board to gather more input before this week’s vote.
Prior to the vote, board members read final submitted comments from community members pleading their case on the divisive issue. Speaking in favor of the SRO program, Mountlake Terrace High School teacher Lavon Driscoll said the school’s SRO, Officer Kyle O’Hagan, has developed a relationship with students that allows them to trust him.
“I have seen Officer O’Hagan approach students of all colors to engage them in positive interaction, repairing the gap between the police and people of color,” he stated in a letter read by Kilgore.
Director Nancy Katims read a comment submitted by Edmonds-Woodway High School teacher Amy Emond, who said she is choosing to stand in solidarity with her students of color opposing the program.
“I was a big believer in SROs and building the positive relationships with students,” Emond stated. “I now see the trauma and fear in my Black and brown students when they see an armed SRO in the hallway. We must listen to our students as they are the reason we chose this career.”
Though the board members were in agreement that the district should explore other means of keeping students safe in school, Lynnwood High School poses a particular problem. Since its campus is located in unincorporated Snohomish County, the school can experience a longer response time from law enforcement, so it contracts with the sheriff’s office for an SRO presence.
In past discussions on the SRO issue, Director Gary Noble has expressed his worries about the response time issue. Noble voiced his concerns again Tuesday night, saying the district should ensure there is a robust safety plan in place before voting to terminate the SRO contract.
“Eliminating the SRO at other schools is less of a safety issue, because in an emergency local police can respond almost immediately,” he said. “Lynnwood High, however, is in unincorporated Snohomish County and the county sheriff’s department is spread so thin that it cannot guarantee a response in less than 30 minutes.”
Additionally, Noble pointed out that the district has been hesitant in the past to eliminate the program at the school. When other schools temporarily lost SROs due to budget shortages, Lynnwood’s remained in place.
Following the discussion, the board voted 5-0 to postpone voting on the matter until its Aug. 11 business meeting, to allow for more time to create an adequate safety plan for the school.
–By Cody Sexton