Edmonds School Board votes to remove police officers from three schools; will decide on fourth later this year

Edmonds School Board President Deborah Kilgore (bottom right) discusses the board’s decision to remove police officers from schools. (Photo courtesy Edmonds School District)

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

    1. This is crazy! It is dangerous and reckless on the part of the school board! The safety of the students should be of utmost importance! Don’t put the students out there to become victims of a mass killing, like so many schools have had happen in the past. It does not justify putting all our students at risk just because some students feel uncomfortable with a police officer standing at the door! Plus, the lawsuits, if something tragic happened because of this totally ridiculous idea, would be overwhelming! Our tax dollars goes to help fund our schools, and I do not, and will not, fund a program that will not protect our students and fails to see the dangers in making this idiotic plan for our school district!

      1. Not just the Edmonds School Board is struggling with this issue, these votes are taking place all across the country right now. Do they stand with the cops or with BLM, the cops are much easier to oppose.

  1. The BLM effect, they have always been primarily about making people feel negatively about the cops, thus why they only protest certain deaths and ignore others. Anything that portrays cops in a positive light must end, like taking Paw Patrol off the air and getting rid of SRO’s.

    This part says it all..

    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,”

    In today’s cancel culture if you don’t actively support a left side position then you are counted as apposed to it. If the school board did not support BLM on this they would have been called racist, few people are willing to stand up to the pressure of being called a racist, even more so if they are not, much easier to do what we are told and get out of the spotlight.

  2. I am thoroughly disappointed with the decision to not renew or cancel contracts with the police depts in western WA. You are putting yourselves above the safety of the students. I sincerely hope there are no repercussions from this. You will have only yourselves to blame. I predict lawsuits!

  3. Heather-I agree with you. Resource officers in Edmond’s high schools are really an asset to the schools AND the kids too. They make connections with the kids, they hear things/see things that the school administrators don’t. The kids enjoy having them. The officers make the students feel safer overall and can step in sooner if violence erupts, rather than having the police called, coming in without knowing the students and the situation by just being around. The Resource officers can tone down a situation pretty quietly and quickly. I am glad my daughter is out now!

  4. I appreciate that many parent’s feel safer with SRO’s in their children’s schools, but it’s important to know that many parent’s of children of color feel the opposite way. I would encourage those within the community who feel frustration with this decision to reach out to African American fellow community members and ask them about the topic or their experiences with law enforcement. Many will have stories that may have you realizing that in certain schools, children of color, especially African American children, face disparate treatment and even violence and arrest for activities their peers only receive warnings or suspensions for. You may also learn that many schools in the area have had incidents where African American students were specifically targeted for racist violence, including an incident in front of Harveys Bar in Edmonds and an incident a few years back at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

    Certainly no one is arguing against law enforcement ever being allowed in schools at all, but it’s important to realize that people that look different or have different backgrounds may have different experiences with institutions. The same goes for Black Lives Matter. Much of the public narrative about BLM seems to imply an “Us vs Them” narrative, but the truth is BLM supporters generally just want equal treatment for African Americans from the criminal justice system. Despite the polarized narrative sold on some media outlets, most Americans agree with their demands. Including a number of law enforcement officers themselves. The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers has publicly stated they agree the problems BLM highlights are prevalent in law enforcement, and agree with their wishes for reform. Law Enforcement are not a monolithic “opposite” to Black Lives Matter and police reform; nor are the vast majority of African Americans, Black Lives Matter supporters and protestors in general represented by their reactionary elements. Achieving fair treatment of African Americans by officers and protecting the integrity of the badge are not mutually exclusive. In fact, you can’t have one without the other.

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