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Task force will return to school board in August with opinions from parents, students from SRO

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Woodburn SRO program, which consisted of officers Jorge Gaspar, left, and Jacob Stout, was placed on hiatus in June. The Woodburn School District is soliciting feedback from the community on wheather or not to bring it back in the fall.The fate of the Woodburn School District's School Resource Officer program could be determined in the next month after school officials discussed plans to gather data and opinions from the community on whether or not the SRO program should return this fall.

Following the suspension of the SRO program in June, the district is charging a task force consisting of teachers, administrators, law enforcement and school board members with reviewing the roll that the SROs plays in schools and soliciting feedback from a wide variety of community members on the future viability of the program.

"This is going to be one of our most important tasks we're going to be charged with," Woodburn High School Principal Disiree Kiesel said at the July 14 monthly school board meeting.

The principal of Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy, Kiesel will team with high school teacher Charles Sanderson to lead a group that will work to collect data from the community on the SRO program, analyze feedback and return to the school board by Aug. 30 with a recommendation on the future of the program.

Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris placed the SRO program on hiatus in June and placed one of the department's two SROs on administrative leave after social media posts alleged to have been made by one of the SROs surfaced that Ferraris described at the time as "troubling and disturbing."

The program suspension comes at a time when a number of school districts in the state and country are re-examining the presence of police officers within school buildings.

"We know it's not really a Woodburn situation, but a national situation," Woodburn School District Superintendent Oscar Moreno Gilson said. "This is something that just about every town is trying to address. I see this as an opportunity, and I'm excited of the work we're rolling out with this one."

Kiesel laid out plans to the board on a three-phase approach for the task force over the next month. Members will gather data from the community, compiling and analyze it for common opinions and return to the board next month with recommendations before the start of the school year. Throughout her presentation, Kiesel stressed the importance of making sure the task force's outreach targets a wide range of effected community members from the district's Spanish, English and Russian-speaking communities.

COURTESY PHOTO - Disiree Kiesel"The thoroughness of this just couldn't be more important," school board member Eric Swenson said. "The range of opinions and voices on this particular issue is wide, and the way that we handle this in the midst of coming back to school, which there also is a wide range of opinions – thoughtfulness and deliberateness is of the order."

In addition to Kiesel and Sanderson, the task force will also feature administrators from the elementary and secondary-level schools, licensed teachers, Ferraris and WPD Deputy Chief Marty Pilcher, and board members Noemi Legaspi and Anthony Medina, the latter of whom was voted as school board chair for the 2020-21 school year. Kiesel left open the possibility of adding more members to the task force as she seeks to eliminate any holes in the information-gathering process that could arise from lack of diversity.

"My circle that I know is going to be my own lens," Kiesel said. "Sometimes those additional lenses is really important. It can sometime reveal a bias that we don't even recognize is there."

Board members discussed with Kiesel hat task force members be equipped with information about the program as they reach out for feedback. Legaspi wanted to know how many referrals the SROs make and how many students are taken into custody.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Charles Sanderson"We don't have anything specific as to who made the referral, but usually any sort of interaction with our SROs are documented in that way," Kiesel said. "My instinct is this is information we can easily get. Within any time a student is cited, we would have data gathered through the police department."

Board member Laura Isiordia concurred.

"The more the community is informed about what we're trying to do here — you'll get the best results if the community is well-informed," Isiordia said.

Legaspi also encouraged task force members to learn as much about the SRO program as possible before reaching out to the public, so members can have a full breadth of knowledge of what officers are tasked with as part of their duties within the program.

"There are professionals in our community who have knowledge in this area. Can we have a police ride-along?" Legaspi said. "I feel like we need to have more information from other stakeholders in this big decision. I encourage us to have training."

A former administrator in the Woodburn School District, Swenson questioned if student input would be taken into consideration along with the feedback gathered from adults.

"Student input is going to be huge — How do we get student voices in that?" Kiesel said. "Absolutely, student voices are going to be a huge component with this." Gilson and Swenson were among those who lightly pushed back on the idea of a hard timeline to return to the school board with a recommendation, stating that a complete and thorough set of data is more important than meeting any specific date.

"Timelines are important, but what's more important is getting as much feedback as possible and making decisions with enough input," Swenson said. "The urgency of having a decision by a certain time could be better subservient to the process itself. It is deliberative and taking in everybody's opinions."

"We can extend this process to make sure everyone feels heard," Gilson said.

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