Parents voice concerns about plan for police officer on Scriber Lake HS campus

As Edmonds School District officials plan to bring a campus police officer to Scriber Lake High School, some parents are questioning the effectiveness of cops on campus.

For months, the Edmonds School District Board of Directors has heard public testimony from parents, teachers and students asking that the district not go through with its plans to include a school resource officer (SRO) on Scriber Lake’s campus. Many of those speaking out against adding an SRO at Scriber Lake are from Edmonds Heights K-12 School, who have said their hesitation stems from concerns that some students — like students of color and students with disabilities — might not be treated fairly by SROs.

Scriber Lake and Edmonds Heights are co-located on the former Woodway High School campus at 100th Avenue West in Edmonds. Both are alternative schools with students from across the district. Edmonds Heights is a parent-partnered program that allows grades K-12 students to complete studies at home and on campus. Scriber Lake is a 9-12 high school that serves many at-risk and special-needs students.

At the board’s Oct. 22 business meeting, Edmonds Heights parent Reita Johnston said she understands that the need to protect students from instance of violence like school shootings; however, she added the district is overlooking potential disparities in student equity.

During the meeting, the board received the district’s Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness report, which provided an update to the district’s SRO program. Prior to the presentation, Johnston said the research provided by district staff is one-sided. She cited additional information showing that since the SRO program was first introduced, there is “no clear evidence” that the use of armed guards is effective in preventing school violence.

Citing the National Association of School Psychologists, Johnston said that placing security guards and metal detectors at schools has been consistently ineffective when protecting students and has been associated with more criminal incidents on campuses.

“I ask that you look at the very real numbers and data and recognize the historical oppression and equitable disparities of minorities and students with disabilities,” she said.

Additionally, Johnston said that there have been concerns about SROs being a resource for discipline at schools. Some parents are also concerned about the school-to-prison pipeline, in which disadvantaged students disproportionately become involved in the criminal justice system.

Edmonds Heights parent Reita Johnston said she is worried a school resource officer (SRO) will treat students of color and disabled students unfairly.

Jeanne Petty, a parent with two students at Seaview Elementary School, said the decision to include SROs on campus feels like it’s being forced on those who are against it, and the board should listen to the community on the issue. Petty also said that armed guards on campus can be a source for stress and trauma for some students.

“If we know that members of our student body are being harmed by proposed solutions we employ, we should be constantly questioning those solutions and actively searching for alternatives,” she said.

The SRO program was reinstated during the 2017-18 school year after having been almost eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts. Before the program was reinstated, Lynnwood High School was the only district school assigned an SRO. The decision to keep that school’s SRO was because the school’s location in unincorporated Snohomish County meant a potential delay in law enforcement response to calls.

The SRO program is set up through an interlocal agreement between the school district and local law enforcement agencies, which define the SRO’s role in high schools. There are currently SROs at Lynnwood, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway high schools. Though primarily located at high schools, SROs provide support to neighboring middle and elementary schools. A potential Scriber Lake SRO would provide support for Edmonds Heights, Sherwood, Westgate and other elementary schools.

Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Greg Schwab said the district decided to reimplement the SRO program after a 2016-17 data analysis showed that more than 160 calls for service were made from each high school during the school year. After learning about the calls made from schools, district staff agreed it would be beneficial for schools to have an officer who was familiar with the students responding to on-campus incidents.

“Having an SRO that knows our schools, how our schools operate, that knows our students and staff is, I think, a more effective model to support the needs of our schools,” he said.

Addressing a previous comment claiming that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is critical of SROs, Schwab pointed out that the organization agrees that there needs to be clear definitions for an SRO’s role and responsibilities on campus. According to Schwab, the district has worked to model its program after the recommendations from the ACLU.

Under the district’s program, Schwab said that the SROs are not authorized to discipline students by issuing detentions, suspensions or expulsions and those responsibilities fall to the school’s principal.

“Our SROs are not disciplinaries,” he said. “Our SROs are in our schools to support and provide safety and security for our students, staff and school community.”

With the SRO program, Schwab said the district is tracking data like number of on-campus arrests, tickets, search and seizure of on-campus students and other incidents. The program also tracks demographics, such as students’ gender, race/ethnicity and disability status. Schwab pointed out that the district began collecting this kind of data before a recently-passed state law required schools with SROs to do so.

During the report, Schwab highlighted instances in which developed relationships with SROs can be beneficial for students. He recalled a situation last school year, when Meadowdale High School’s SRO worked with student advocates to help an undocumented student with a minor, on-campus hit-and-run accident. Schwab said the SRO was able to help the student avoid potential criminal charges after working with student support advocates.

Schwab recommended that the school continue with the program and to monitor data being collected. He also suggested that the district work to collect data from the community, and said he has begun that process by working with Edmonds Heights to develop a survey for the school.

“We know that the presence of SROs in our schools does have an impact on students from our diverse communities,” Schwab said. “I think it’s important that we collect data to understand what those issues are so we can address them.”

Pending board of directors’ approval, an SRO could be assigned to Scriber Lake as early as the 2020-21 school year, said district spokesperson Harmony Weinberg.

View the entire Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness report here.

In other business, the board of directors heard a presentation from Meadowdale Middle School students about “student connectedness” and its role in academic success. Meadowdale Middle students Ezekiel Gould, Amida Diallo, Abby Reitan, Jarvis Gyau and Kylie Wright presented what they learned to the board.

According to the presentation, students who feel a connection to their school do better academically, have fewer absences, are less likely to behave poorly and have better relationships with peers and adults at school. Some are able to achieve this through clubs, sports and school music groups. To be more inclusive for all students, Meadowdale created five “Houses” that combined seventh- and eighth- grade students. Identified by colors — red, blue, green, yellow and purple — the Houses competed for rewards in competitions based upon academics, attendance, participation and House “spirit.”

The board also recognized the district’s capital projects team, which was recently awarded the Engineering News-Record Northwest’s 2019 “Best Projects” Award for K-12 Education for newly-opened Lynnwood Elementary and Mountlake Terrace Elementary.

Also during the meeting, the board voted to approve the purchase of 17501 Spruce Way in Lynnwood, in conjunction with the Replacement of Spruce Elementary School Phase 2. The $818,850 purchase was based on third-party professional appraisal and would involve an additional estimated $135,000 in closing costs, appraisal fees, environmental assessment costs, legal fees and other consultant costs. The property purchase will allow the district to construct additional pedestrian and vehicular access for the school.

–Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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