The Tigard-Tualatin School District has inked a new contract with the cities of Tigard and Tualatin to ensure that police officers continue patrolling the halls and grounds of district schools.
The new contract, however, spells out certain changes in the role of school resource officers (SRO), which includes having the officers take part in school district diversity, equity and inclusion training, as well as taking part in community events including bi-monthly meetings with student Affinity and Alliance groups.
“It’s a huge effort for many in our district. The theme I saw tonight is how a system with an equity lens pulls together those connectors for a more equitable system,” Zinnia Un, the district’s Director of Equity and Inclusion said at a March 15 Tigard-Tualatin School Board meeting.
The community-wide review of the district’s SRO program was initiated following the widespread protests launched by last June’s police killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. The school district’s review of its SRO program was one of many such responses to those calls and was spurred by a request last summer by Tigard High School Black Student Union leader Abdi Mohamoud.
The School Board formally approved the new contract at its April 12 meeting, but Tualatin SROs will return to schools on May 3 to help oversee hybrid classroom-online learning for middle and high school students. Officers Brian Miller and Kevin Miller will be assigned to Tualatin High School and Hazelbrook Middle School, but will also be responsible for Byrom Elementary School, Bridgeport Elementary School and Tualatin Elementary School. The City must provide at least two officers, according to the new contract, which runs through the 2021-22 school year, but it has assigned up to three SROs in the past.
The decision to retain SROs in district schools came after a lengthy report released last November detailed how a significant minority of students and families were uncomfortable with the presence of armed police inside school facilities. The subsequent changes in SRO training and engagement with staff, students and their families are intended to address that discomfort while more directly spelling out the SRO role in schools.
“There was a definite lack of clarity around the SRO role and responsibilities that was voiced by the community and students,” Tualatin Police Sgt. Jeremy Rankin said April 26, prior to the City Council approving the contract.
In addition, the SRO program will be reviewed annually by the school district.
“This is something all of our partners were really adamant to include given the work that we’ve done as part of our community process,” Un said.
Tualatin Police Chief Bill Steele told the school board that he appreciates the district’s effort.
“These aren’t easy conversations to have,” Steele said. “But they are important conversations. We have a lot more work to do, but I’m confident as we move forward that we’re going to have a better product as a program and it’s going to benefit everybody in the district.”
Tualatin City Councilor Maria Reyes said she grew up in Southern California and attended a high school that saw regular gang-related violence. The presence of School Resource Officers at her school, she said, was comforting, and is just one reason why she supports their continued assignment to local schools.
“I think Tualatin is doing great and I really encourage that connection with the SROs and the community because I did see violence and shootings and everything and it was tough,” Reyes said. “Having someone or at least knowing they were present in my school, some kind of support, that was very helpful for those of us who were part of the neighborhood but we weren’t part of the gang.”