Over 120 Lake Oswego community members participated in Respond to Racism's meeting Aug. 3 via the videoconferencing platform Zoom.
The topic of the meeting was the presence of police in the Lake Oswego School District.
LOSD Superintendent Lora de la Cruz, LOSD School Board members and Lakeridge Middle School Principal Kurt Schultz were online to hear the presentation and participate in the discussion afterward.
Jordan McElroy, a recent graduate from Riverdale High School, shared a presentation on school resource officers that originally was her senior thesis project. The presentation outlined the history of the position and examined its effectiveness. Her presentation also included arguments in favor of SROs.
She cited a study by the ACLU of Connecticut that found that although Black and Hispanic students in East Hartford together made up 69% of the population, they accounted for 85% of school-based arrests.
McElroy also cited evidence that the presence of police officers in schools contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, which refers to the process in which students are funneled out of schools and into the criminal justice system.
She said some studies have found that SROs, in certain cases, have been effective in reducing violence in schools.
But McElroy added that there are other forces at work in schools to curb violence, such as counselors and social workers, so the credit cannot be attributed solely to SROs.
She concluded that SROs cause more harm than good in a school district.
Members of Oregon Student Voice, a student-run nonprofit that aims to empower students to shape their education, also presented.
They shared some alternatives in schools to SROs.
They said SROs wear many hats as part of a triad model in which they fulfill the roles of law enforcement, counselor and educator.
The problem, Oregon Student Voice members said, is that SROs are replacing the role of counselors and social workers rather than augmenting them. Schools would get better results if they hired professional counselors and social workers, they argued.
They recommended LOSD hire the recommended number of counselors and social workers for its student population and implement restorative justice practices that focus on de-escalating tensions instead of using punitive measures like referrals to the criminal justice system.
They also shared anonymous LOSD student testimonials. In one account, a girl was said to have been falsely accused of prostitution by an SRO.
Recent Lake Oswego High School graduate Gemma Pleas also spoke at the meeting. She started a petition asking for the removal of SROs by the district after an earlier petition request was not met by LO Change.
"LOSD cannot claim they're anti-racist and then do things that will further harm Black students," she said.
Pleas spoke from her experience as a Black woman when sharing an instance about when she was a young girl and her teacher told the class a police officer would be giving a talk the next day. Pleas said all her classmates were excited, but she wasn't.
"Personally, when I see police officers I panic," she said. "To me a police officer wasn't a friend, it was a source of stress."
She said that words like "friends" and "support," which often are used to describe an SRO's role, effectively gaslight the Black students who say they don't feel safe with SROs in schools.
Pleas' petition now has over 350 signatures and can be viewed here.
So, is the district going to reconsider SROs' place in the district?
"We are starting a community discussion about it," said LOSD Director of Communications Mary Kay Larson.
She said the district held a student focus group Aug. 5 with two areas of focus: class schedule and what the district should know about creating a culture of belonging in the district. She said the topic of SROs came up and they plan to hold a separate focus group on the topic in the near future.
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