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Students, Parents And Teachers Weigh In On Whether To Remove Police Officers From Portland Schools

Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public
The Portland School Board meets virtually Tuesday night to discuss whether to discontinue SROs in two Portland schools.

Dozens of students, parents and teachers in Portland Tuesday night called on the city's school board to end its agreement with the local police department and remove two police officers from its schools.

On Tuesday, the school board held a virtual hearing on a measure to end the district's SRO program and instead use the funds on "equity priorities" in the district. The resolution would also bar Portland school staff from calling the police unless "a student's behavior poses real and immediate risk of serious physical harm."


The action comes as several other cities, including Denver and Portland, Oregon, have committed to removing SROs from their schools in recent weeks.


At Tuesday's meeting, Deering High School student Umulkair Mohamed said that while school resource officers are good people.


"I feel like the profession of cops, and the uniform they wear, is a symbol of institutionalized racism, and systemic racism," she said. "And the fear and intimidation they bring into schools is not something that Portland Public Schools should continue."


CC Robinson, a teacher at the city's Casco Bay High School said that in a recent survey of students asking what actions they'd like the district to take, the only answer repeatedly expressed was for the school system to cut ties with the city's police department.


 "And I just want to say, to our students, it's a no-brainer," Robinson said.


Last year, a University of Southern Maine study analyzed the role of school resource officers in the state, as more schools have started to add SROs in the wake of school shootings. The report found that the officers often take on various jobs, from school security to counseling, mediating conflicts and investigating criminal activity.


It also found that Maine has no statewide training requirements for SROs, and that "most of Maine’s SROs are placed in the state’s public schools with little training on best practices for interacting with students, and no training on the key issues facing officers deployed in schools. The state leaves local school districts and/or police departments to decide what additional training, if any, SROs will have."


Recent reports from the ACLU have also found that "schools with police reported 3.5 times as many arrests as schools without police," with black students three times as likely to be arrested as white students.


But some parents, including Susana Ledoux, whose son attends Portland High School, asked the board not to rush to a decision to end the district's SRO program.


"Maybe building a better relationship with the police and the students would be a better idea, on some levels, so that when they go out into the community, they're not afraid of police," Ledoux said. "That maybe they do community-building with the police, so that it becomes a community situation where everyone feels safe."


A survey of students at Portland High School reported that the vast majority of students said they enjoyed having an SRO at school and felt safer with an officer there, but critics say the results weren't representative of the whole student body. 


Several school board members indicated their support for the resolution, but a few had reservations about the plan and worried that it was being rushed. The school board will likely vote on the issue at a special meeting on June 30. School leaders say they also plan to take a larger look at the district's interactions with law enforcement over the next few months.