About a dozen Gresham students say they have been the focus of abuse, racial profiling and discrimination by the Gresham High School student resource officer.
The students told reporters Thursday, Nov. 4, that they would push the school board to remove the officer from the school.
The group, known as the Students Against Oppression, read from a statement that they submitted to the Gresham-Barlow School Board as a public comment during its meeting that night.
Other groups, community members and Gresham High School staff sent written comments to the school board for its public comments component of the meeting. Students involved in the protest asked that their names not be made public to protect their safety.
"We cannot build trust with those who are most in need in our school and community or dig into preventive work until our students, more specifically students of color, are allowed to feel more safe in our spaces, and even at their homes, free from the harassment of the School Resource Officer in the name of the school," wrote Alayna Windham, the district's connection coordinator, in a public comment to the board.
The Gresham-Barlow School District is making plans to address the students allegations and the SRO program in an upcoming meeting. The resource officer involved in the incidents has not been publicly identified.
"We are writing this public comment to all of you and to the community at large because our voices have continually been silenced as we have addressed that our school is not a safe place for students of color numerous times, multilevel administrators and people in charge," said Stasia, one of the students.
Many of the students in the group told reporters there had been several incidents of discrimination, verbal bullying and harassment directed to students of color by the high school's SRO. "I have heard of about six to seven incidents this school year, but I know there have been multiple in the last couple of years," said high school senior Nadia.
Members of the group said they felt that the school and the district had not been supportive through their struggle. "I feel like they try to please me, they tell me what I want to hear, but I have never had anything followed up," Stasia said.
The protest and the group's goal was focused on removing Gresham high's SRO. Some of the students that spoke brought up other racially charged incidents involving staff and even teachers. Student Mary Jane said she was made to feel uncomfortable in front of her choir class after a teacher commented on her hair being unacceptable for a future performance. She decided to drop out of the choir course because of the incident.
"I have been profiled for having substances on me. I have been confronted by staff members threatening my life," Stasia said. "I was told that I would end up like Breonna Taylor if I had any substances on me."
This is in reference to a Black woman who was killed by Louisville, Ken., police in her own home.
When asked about the incident Athena Vadnais, Gresham-Barlow School District communications & community relations director said in an email that the district was aware of the interaction and that it responded to it appropriately.
"Just knowing that these things are happening to my fellow students and my friend… that is disgusting and we are children, and we shouldn't be hearing these words from adults. (These words are) traumatizing, it is hard to focus on school with the anger I feel," Mary Jane said.
Gresham High School's SRO has been a topic of much discussion after an incident of alleged excessive force by the officer caused a 2019 student protest. Then sophomore Kamelya Jack claimed the SRO body slammed her to the ground while she was trying to pick-up her infant daughter from the school's day care center. Gresham police said that Jack was not going to the day care center, was ignoring the resource officer's instructions to leave the premises and the officer resorted to force only after repeated instructions to stop. Gresham police said the force used was within city policy.
Since Jack was a minor and the case is still active, the Gresham Police Department declined to release the incident report or other documents related to the situation.
Gresham high students walked out of class on Thursday afternoon, May 2, 2019, and marched to City Hall and Gresham Police Department headquarters on Eastman Parkway carrying signs protesting the incident and opposing SROs on campus.
Pushing for action
On top of their protest at the Gresham-Barlow School Board, the Students Against Oppression group has also gathered about 330 signatures on a petition to show a growing desire to eliminate its contract allowing SROs on campus.
State Rep. Ricki Ruiz took to Twitter on Wednesday, Nov. 10, to show his support for removing the school's SRO. "The experiences of Gresham High School students regarding an SRO should have never been ignored," Ruiz tweeted. "I have formally requested the Gresham-Barlow School District to act immediately and to put student voices first."
Both the Students Against Oppression and Ruiz said they would rather use funding set aside for the SRO position to make more mental health resources available to students.
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