PSD community discusses school resource officer contracts

Meagan Stackpool

Amid protests across the country calling out racial inequalities and biases, the Poudre School District Board of Education voted on Tuesday, June 23 to decide whether or not PSD would continue their contracts with local police departments for student resource officers.

The board met via a public virtual meeting and allowed comments from the community. After several hours of discussion, the board voted 6-1 to approve three amended SRO contracts with Fort Collins Police Services, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and Town of Timnath Police Department. Naomi Johnson was the only vote against.

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PSD Executive Director of Communications Madeline Noblett expressed that a community conversation on PSD’s stance regarding the presence of SROs in schools was needed. 

I believe that SROs disproportionately affect students of color and work to criminalize students. They are representations of a broken system that has no place in our schools.” -Kobi Salinas, a former PSD student

Over the coming year, PSD will facilitate robust community engagement with stakeholders, analyze district discipline data and re-evaluate the roles of SROs in schools, among other steps, before making a recommendation next spring about whether the school board should renew the SRO contracts for the 2021-22 school year,” Noblett wrote in an email to The Collegian.  

The Black, Indigenous and People of Color Alliance shared the need for SROs to be removed from schools on social media. In an Instagram post, The BIPOC Alliance wrote an open letter to the community after the board voted to renew their contracts. In it, they expressed their dismay at the result of the vote. 

“The all-white board has been influenced by the same supremacist system that oppresses us every day. Only through intentional, systematic work could they ever reconnect to what has been stolen from them and us,” The BIPOC Alliance wrote.

 

According to the contracts, the PSD Board of Education has budgeted $844,440.30 for FCPD, $172,423.68 for Larimer County Sheriff’s Department, and $12,943.84 for the Timnath, Colorado, police department to provide SROs to local schools. The total amount PSD has projected to spend on police officers in schools for the 2020-21 school year is $1,029,807.82. 

Executive Director of Operations Matt Bryant and Director of Language, Culture and Equity John McKay gave a short presentation about the actions PSD has taken to address the needs of students of color as well as future action to be decided by the board.

Bryant explained that more up-to-date data is needed, so a Student Equality Coalition and a reporting system will be created to better address that need. He also expressed the need for community and stakeholder involvement in finding creative solutions and outlining the specific role of SROs.

Bryant went on to explain PSD would appoint an overseeing body by creating a Community Advisory Council and require mandatory SRO reporting in incidents involving students to make that process more transparent. 

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McKay spoke of engagement with accountability, discussing the creation of several committees and coalitions and the importance of collecting evidence from all stakeholders. McKay also discussed how crucial it is to not get stuck in listening to stories but to be called to action and actually foster change. 

“It’s one thing to consistently listen and hear stories, but it’s another thing to act and provide results, and I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we are transparent and accountable to this process,” McKay said.

There has been significant discussion online about the presence of SROs in schools, specifically within Fort Collins. The FoCo Black Lives Matter movement started a petition online that has almost 1,000 signatures calling for the removal of police officers in schools. Kobi Salinas, a former PSD student and 2019 graduate, has started an informational social media campaign demanding Poudre schools be police-free by 2021. 

“I believe that SROs disproportionately affect students of color and work to criminalize students,” Salinas wrote in an email to The Collegian. “They are representations of a broken system that has no place in our schools. Many students of color have shared their experiences with decision-makers, and it is time for action. The BIPOC students of PSD and residents of Fort Collins are tired of sympathy and condolences and are looking for actual change.”

It’s one thing to consistently listen and hear stories, but it’s another thing to act and provide results, and I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we are transparent and accountable to this process.” -John McKay, Poudre School District Director of Language, Culture and Equity 

The meeting featured a segment where members of the public were allowed to speak. Calls for action and change and more effective and appropriate uses of funds and discipline were frequent during this session. 

Cari Brown also spoke during the community engagement portion of the meeting. She is the public affairs manager for The Arc, an organization that advocates for families with students with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and she expressed worry at the prospect of renewing SRO contracts while integrative services are on the block for budget cuts.

“We are concerned about the disproportionate impact that students with disabilities will face from at-home learning from budget cuts,” Brown said. “We are also concerned with the SRO contract as well, with the disproportionate impact that students with disabilities face in disciplinary matters. Essentially what we are asking is that, if you renew the SRO contract, cuts to integrative services not be made and that maybe you take a look at the SRO contract and prioritize integrative services over that.”

Michael Knudsen, a father of three PSD students, was very much in favor of renewing the contract with SROs. After a short anecdote about his daughter’s rights being infringed upon as the victim of a crime, he expressed the need to keep SRO’s in school. 

“School violence is still a major concern,” Knudsen said. “I know right now it seems like it’s not, but we still have major instances that have happened in Colorado. I don’t want parents to forget that. I think if we actually remove SROs, we are going to actually make our children more vulnerable to crimes if any type of follow up needs to happen.”

Rosie Macy, a science teacher in PSD, explained the physical impact SROs have on students of color. Macy explained that when the brain perceives a threat, it does everything it can to keep the body safe, bypassing conscious thought and forcing the body to be ready for anything. She said that when the brain is in said survival state, it is physically impossible to learn or think clearly. 

The all-white Board has been influenced by the same supremacist system that oppresses us every day. Only through intentional, systematic work could they ever reconnect to what has been stolen from them and us.” -BIPOC Alliance

“This is happening to our students of color daily when they walk onto campus and see the cop car. Those instinctual protective behaviors look a lot like ‘willful disobedience,’ ‘problem actions,’ ‘acting out’ or ‘attention-seeking’ and can get a kid kicked out of class and sent straight to the SRO, the very source of that threat,” Macy said.

Macy continued, explaining that this process ingrains in students’ brains, associating school with being unsafe. She went on to say students can remain in this headspace for the entire school day or for the entirety of their school career. 

“It does not matter how nice the officer is (or) how many fist bumps they give out,” Macy said. “The very presence of police in schools is actively harmful.”

Meagan Stackpool can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MeaganStackpool.