Rochester school board approves contract with police department for school resource officers – Reuters
ROCHESTER — Rochester Public Schools has approved a new contract with the Rochester Police Department regarding the use of school resource officers, which represents a step forward on a contentious issue between the two organizations.
The school board unanimously approved the contract on Tuesday, although the conversation leading up to the vote indicated that it was a compromise for some.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, it’s not perfect,” board member Karen MacLaughlin said of the deal. “But I hope the changes to this document will push the RPD down a path to being more equitable in our schools.”
MacLaughlin said one of the changes to the document is the “decriminalization of normal student behavior.”
The school district has used school resource officers for nearly 30 years. This use, however, has become the source of controversy in recent years as the national conversation about police brutality has grown.
Board member Julie Workman said it’s important to remember that what may be a problem elsewhere isn’t necessarily a problem for Rochester. She then pointed to a section of the contract that explains how SROs will not be involved in the school discipline of students.
“It’s important to understand that what’s happening in California or Ohio or South Carolina isn’t happening here,” Workman said. “We have our own situation, our own environment.”
Board member Jess Garcia, who has criticized the use of ORS, questioned why the contract couldn’t go further by calling out the racial issues she says exist in law enforcement.
She said part of the reason for the delay was that the school district wanted to “explicitly identify our roles in perpetuating racism and racial repression, and the RPD didn’t want to do that.”
In response, Superintendent Kent Pekel said it was decided that adding language identifying such issues was beyond the scope of a legal document for services.
“Just because something’s wrong with a legal contract doesn’t mean it can’t be collaborated on,” Pekel said.
The school board held several meetings on the subject with representatives of the police department, debating everything from what kind of uniform SROs should wear to whether they should be armed.
Last summer, the school board approved a memorandum of understanding in hopes of better defining the roles of SROs until a new contract can be drafted.
Like Garcia, board member Don Barlow indicated that he would have liked to see more terms in the contract addressing various historical issues between law enforcement and marginalized communities.
“The contract in front of us is a step forward,” Barlow said. “(My) vote for this does not necessarily mean that I am in favor of everything because we did not, in my opinion, achieve everything that the subcommittee wanted.”