Police would no longer have a presence in St. Louis Park Public Schools if the district agrees to a demand by a group of alumni.
Earlier this month, the Minneapolis Public Schools board voted to end its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department after the death of St. Louis Park resident George Floyd involving Minneapolis officers. The four officers involved have all been fired and charged in Floyd’s death.
The St. Louis Park School Board is considering whether to follow the lead of the Minneapolis School District and remove three school resource officers from its schools.
The Alliance for Educational Justice has sought similar action in about 20 major cities.
St. Louis Park Superintendent Astein Osei said he sought to understand from alumni whether their concerns related specifically to St. Louis Park police.
“There was not one concern or issue that any of the alumni offered as it relates specifically to St. Louis Park police,” Osei said. “As a matter of fact, they shared that they’ve heard nothing but great feedback around the community policing model that the St. Louis Park police are currently implementing and, more importantly, the relationships that our school resource officers have with our students.”
He added, “When you receive 200-plus emails, it causes you to wonder if something is happening specifically with our local law enforcement agency, and that was not the case.”
However, Osei said advocates have warned that police in schools, in general, tend to over-discipline students of color.
“Black students, in particular, are far more likely than white students to be suspended, expelled and arrested in school,” Osei’s presentation stated.
The superintendent said he talked with about a dozen individuals who are seeking the change.
In particular, the alumni opposed officers carrying guns in schools.
“They couldn’t think of any good reason for police to have guns in schools,” he said.
They added that the police uniform and gun could create traumatic experiences for students, Osei said. They also said school resource officers should have more mediation and de-escalation training.
“I offered to them that certainly all of our officers receive mediation and deescalation training, but they hold the belief that our officers are not fully trained to deal with the social-emotional and mental health needs of students,” Osei said.
The alumni said police working in schools should also be required to receive social-emotional and racial equity training.
While Osei later said the conversations with alumni left him feeling energized about the future of democracy, he stressed that students should drive any changes rather than alumni.
“With any sort of change like this, at the core of that change has to be the current students and families that are directly impacted,” Osei said.
While he said the alumni will always be Orioles, he continued, “I said always struggle with outside groups coming in and maybe pushing their agenda on our community and that it would be really important for them to actually talk to our students and understand what our students’ greatest need is.”
In meeting with students throughout the year, Osei said students have never identified a school resource officer as the greatest threat to them achieving their goals.
Painting any group of people with a broad brush is dangerous – including law enforcement, he added.
As a result of the conversations with alumni, the district planned to gain input from the student group Students Organizing Against Racism, or SOAR.
Osei also recommended that the district convene a task force of students, staff, parents, guardians and police to discuss the relationship. He noted he and St. Louis Park Police Chief Mike Harcey already have been considering modifications to a memorandum of understanding.
“There is a certain level of fear around policing in our different communities across the state,” Osei said. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to sit down and really have a conversation about what do we want our (school resource officers’) role to be in our schools and then how do we get there collaboratively.”
Given the number of emails alumni sent, Board Chair Mary Tomback remarked, “Message received, loud and clear.”
Reactions to Floyd’s death
The board also discussed their reactions to Floyd’s death. Boardmember Laura McClendon noted that St. Louis Park Middle School paraprofessional Justin Cherrier collected donations of food, water and other supplies to assist communities affected by civil unrest. Cherrier also used his skills as a videographer to record demonstrations involving St. Louis Park students, alumni and community members.
McClendon said that attending district schools afforded her a certain amount of privilege even as a person of color. However, she said she would push for racial justice in the district, including in policies.
“If we don’t do something different, then we are complicit and complacent,” McClendon said.
As an educator, Boardmember Heather Wilsey said she wants to protect her students.
“I can keep them safe when they’re with me, but there’s this bigger world,” Wilsey said. “Then you see what happened to George Floyd, and it’s personal in the sense that we couldn’t protect him.”
Boardmember Ken Morrison added, “There’s a lot of work to be done in society, and a lot of people want to return to normal. And we can’t return to normal. There’s not a normal that I’ve experienced that I want to be in.”
Tomback noted she had met with Floyd’s housemates Alvin Manago and Theresa Scott since Floyd had lived down the street from her. She recalled him walking along Excelsior Boulevard and waving at people walking by from his patio chair.
“He cared about this community, and so I take it personally,” Tomback said. “I know we all take it personally that we are going to care for our community in his honor and care for the students in our schools and the staff in our schools and the people in our community because he should be here doing that with us.”