Lake Oswego School Board revisits SRO discussion
The Lake Oswego School Board revisited the conversation on school resource officers at the board meeting last week.
"This is a follow-up to address some of those comments and questions made (at a prior meeting)," said Mary Kay Larson, director of communications.
The SRO program in the Lake Oswego School District started out as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in the 1990s, with officers visiting elementary classrooms to educate against drug use, and became a long-standing program focused on building relationships with elementary school students.
From 2015 to 2017, the SRO program was paused due to retirements and limited staff at LOPD.
The program resumed with one officer in 2017, paid for by LOPD. LOSD's second SRO was brought on in 2019, funded by the Lake Oswego Learning Levy passed by voters that same year.
Last summer, when protests against police violence were at an all-time high in Lake Oswego and across the country, groups pushed for changes to police involvement in schools.
At a December board meeting, independent equity consultants John Lenssen and Tara Cooper presented the findings of closed interviews and listening sessions that were conducted as part of the Lake Oswego School District's evaluation of the SRO program.
Lenssen and Cooper shared the perspectives of each group — students, teachers and staff, administration, and families and community — and no one group was in full agreement on the program.
Within all groups were concerns like, "If we have them, why do they need to be armed?" and on the flipside, "SROs know CPR, first aid, medical issues and emergencies, evacuations and fires. They are there to help."
There were people in each group who did not support the program, and the presentation sparked questions from the board.
"The question I keep coming back to is: What's the problem we're trying to solve? Is it drugs, is it safety, is it violence, is it psychological need? We need to define that," board member Liz Hartman said at the December meeting.
During last week's meeting, Larson said Hartman's question prompted an internal SRO needs assessment.
The needs assessment asked several questions of district administration and staff related to what is needed in an SRO partnership, what types of preventative and responsive programs the officers participate in, which situations prompt a response from an SRO and whether an officer is needed at a school on a daily basis, among other queries.
Respondents said the program needed to be focused on sustained relationships, trust, knowledge of school policy, procedure and safety protocols, among other things.
SRO-involved preventative programs that were identified included lockdown drills, drug abuse prevention and hallway presence to prevent illicit behaviors, among others.
The responsive fields SROs typically participate in include truancy, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, crisis management and more.
According to respondents, SROs also are called in situations of drug use, violence, large event security, traffic flow, lockdown and more.
Fourteen out of 19 respondents said an SRO is not needed at their school on a daily basis but is a nice addition to the school.
Board member Kristen Aird said one thing she noticed throughout the responses is that SROs are relied on heavily for substance abuse issues. She said using law enforcement for youth drug prevention is not a best practice.
"That's a culture thing in Lake Oswego. If we want to be following best practices we need to use other first responders and really lean on our other first responders," Aird said.
"Even though, on the books, I know it's illegal to buy drugs and have them on campus — but that's not how we solve it in a meaningful way."
Aird said it brought to her mind the possible need to reevaluate the district policies.
John Park, LOSD director of safety and security, clarified that in most cases the SROs provide educational resources on drug prevention in health classes.
Aird thanked him for providing nuance and clarification, but added that their presence is still not a best practice in that scenario.
"I cannot stress enough that law enforcement shouldn't even be teaching health ed," she said.
Board member Liz Hartman asked the two district SROs, Bryan Sheldon and James Euscher, what a typical day on the job is like for them.
Sheldon said that although no one day is the same, the one constant is just being available and being present. "If we're not available, then we can't build relationships with anybody," he said.
Euscher said he starts his day at Lakeridge High School before the first bell rings. He holds the door open and greets students and staff. When the tardy bell rings, he'll wait around for a few minutes before greeting the front office staff. The rest of his day involves visiting the other schools he's responsible for and responding to calls and emails. His favorite part of a typical day is visiting the elementary students during recess.
Board member John Walin asked the officers to address the need to wear the uniform on the job.
Sheldon said not wearing the uniform would disadvantage everyone because the SROs are more recognizable with their uniform on and the officers are less prepared in a threatening situation.
Sheldon said the number of referrals to police custody over the last four years has drastically decreased from when the district didn't have SROs in 2016.
Board member Neelam Gupta asked what the SRO relationship with the counselors looks like.
Sheldon said he has more contact with the counselors than anyone else besides the assistant principals.
The board will decide whether to create a taskforce to help inform the future of the SRO program at the next meeting.
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