Gresham High students speak out against school resource officers

As the Gresham-Barlow School Board met Thursday evening for a working session inside the district office, a dozen students from Gresham High School gathered outside the district offices with a message. They were drawing attention to how the school’s resource officer – the Gresham High internal police officer – treats students of color.

“Our voices were continuously silenced and we explained that our school was not a safe place for students of color, on several occasions, with multiple administrations and leaders,” said Stasia, a junior.

In most cases, OPB does not use children’s last names in reporting to protect their privacy.

Stasia is a member of a new group of students at Gresham High called Students Against Oppression. The board only allows written public comments for a period of board meetings, then Stasia read the public comment the group submitted outside of the meeting, with several classmates standing behind her.

A dozen students from Gresham High School gathered outside the school district building on November 4, 2021 to denounce school resource officers at their school. The new group Students Against Oppression circulates a petition and shares its demands with the school district.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

“In the contract that our school district made with the Gresham Police Department, the written purpose of the SRO is to improve relationships with students and ensure the safety of students,” she read.

“As a student body, we tell you that this is not our experience on reception and we demand that there be consequences.”

Districts typically employ school resource officers to provide campus security services while developing positive relationships with students.

Students of color at Gresham High said Thursday they felt targeted, harassed, intimidated, discriminated against and profiled by the school’s resource manager. They said issues with the school resources manager at Gresham High had been going on for years, including a reported incident by the Gresham Outlook in 2019 which sparked a student protest. The school resources officer in this case is still assigned to the school district.

The group of students circulated a petition among their classmates, including through a signature campaign at the school on Wednesday. Mackenzie, a junior at Gresham High, said the group has obtained more than 200 signatures from students who want all SROs removed from the district. The group advocates increasing the number of mental health counselors and setting up a “community safety team” instead.

“It makes the students feel safe around the people watching the schools,” Mackenzie said.

The Gresham Police Department said there was also support for ORS, mentioning that several students wore T-shirts on Wednesday, the same day as the petition campaign, which read “ORS belong to schools”.

Lt. John Rasmussen of the Gresham Police Department called the student group’s allegations “libelous and potentially libelous attempts to defame the school’s resource manager” in an email to the OPB. He said officers did not profile students, although he could “understand that some people feel intimidated by officers and even knowing or believing someone has a gun.”

Students in the group mentioned that other Portland-area school districts have pulled their school resource officers, including Portland Public Schools and David Douglas and Parkrose School Districts. Gresham-Barlow’s eastern neighbor, the Reynolds School District, has a School Resource Officer program, and recently shared a poll with the district community to seek feedback on the role of ORS in schools and the community. Conversations about law enforcement in school buildings have been going on for years in Oregon and nationwide. After a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd in May 2020, the conversation gained relevance as well as a national record of racial justice and police violence, starting with Minneapolis public schools. terminate his contract with the police department.

Gresham-Barlow Acting Superintendent James Hiu said he would update the board on Nov. 18 on the district’s SRO program and respond to concerns and complaints that have been shared.

The student group said their concerns about the school’s resource manager were part of a larger model at the school, involving other campus staff and administrators.

Group member Stasia remembers being accused of transporting drugs by a member of staff.

“I was told that I would end up like Breonna Taylor if I had a substance on me that I shouldn’t have had,” Stasia said, referring to a black woman. killed by the police in Louisville, Kentucky.

The school district responded that it was aware of this interaction and responded to it appropriately, but would not provide further details, calling it a personal matter.

Another student, Mary Jane, said she dropped out of a class in part because of a teacher’s comments about her hair.

“Knowing that these things happen to my classmates… it’s disgusting, and we are children, and we shouldn’t hear those words from adults, they are traumatic, it’s hard to focus on school because of the anger I feel, ”the student said. “And no one should be going through this. “

“It’s definitely harder for students to get excited about being at our school,” said Nadia, senior.

Students said they did not feel supported by several school staff, and those who support them are not open to this support.

Of the nine public comments share with the Gresham-Barlow school board on Thursday, five concerned the end of the contract of the person in charge of school resources. The other four concerned the wearing of a mask in sport.

Two of the comments from the SROs were from staff.

One of the staff’s comments came from Gresham High social worker Kate Poland, who said this year she has seen the “highest incidents and severity of mental health issues” for students at during his seven and a half years in the district. Including links to articles on the role of school resource officers, she called on the district to redirect ORS funds to more direct support for students.

“Every day we strive to resolve crisis after crisis,” Poland wrote. She said the school does not have the capacity to provide “school wide supports and interventions to support all of our students.”

“If the money spent on ORS was reallocated back to school,” Poland continued, “we would be able to move from a predominantly crisis response to creating a strong program with evidence-based support. and culturally specific for historically underserved students which would include things like mentors and social workers and additional counselors.

Gresham-Barlow staff member Alayna Windham’s commentary mentioned that a school resources officer had made home visits to students and their families without the school’s knowledge. She wrote that several students of color face accusations or are out of school “for which no further remedial action has been attempted by the school as a first line of action.”

When asked about Windham’s comments, the school district said the SRO was “acting within its duties as a Gresham police officer” by making house calls. Gresham Police recalled a “recent incident” in which an ORS made a home visit. Rasmussen said the conversation was captured by a body camera and no students were arrested. The case, an alleged assault on another student according to Gresham police, is “forwarded to the Multnomah County Juvenile Department”.

Further comments on the matter came from Pueblo Unido PDX executive director Cameron Coval. Coval’s organization is working with families in the district and said it has received “disturbing reports” that ORS have used excessive force and profiled students of color inside and outside the school. .

Senior Mary Jane said one of her teachers shared a lesson on the conversation around police presence in schools on Thursday, where she learned different stories of school resource officers hurting or negatively impacting children. students.

“Knowing that these things are happening in other places, and not just in our school, really shows how it’s not just Gresham’s business,” Mary Jane said.

“This is something that is happening in other schools as well.”

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