Wednesday morning was police reform activist Jo Ann Hardesty's first day on Portland City Council. But, as Hardesty was being sworn in inside Portland City Hall, a group of Portland Public Schools (PPS) students gathered outside to draw attention to a cause that Hardesty campaigned on: Police reform.
The students met on the steps of city hall to reject a tentative agreement PPS has made to pay the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to hire more School Resource Officers (SROs)—sworn officers who have long-term assignments with a public school district—to police PPS campuses. Portland City Council is slated to vote on the agreement sometime in February.
As the Oregonian reported when the PPS Board voted on the agreement last month, PPB already sends nine sworn officers to serve PPS schools three days a week at no charge to the district.
Under the new agreement, PPS will pay the bureau about $1.2 million a year for the nine dedicated SROs that will serve the district five days a week, as well as two sergeants. The five-year agreement came about because PPB says it cannot afford to continue lending SROs without compensation.
Students from numerous PPS schools are calling on the council to reject it, citing a range of concerns about making armed police officers a permanent fixture at their schools—and spending PPS dollars to make that happen.
“Having armed police officers in schools can lead to a hostile and unsafe environment for some students,” said members of the student group, called PPS Student Voices, at the Wednesday rally. “With at least two fatal shootings by Portland police in the past seven months (Jason Washington and Patrick Kimmons) … Portland police have proven to pose threats of danger, particularly towards people of color and people with disabilities. Stationing police officers in schools will further contribute to an environment of fear and distrust.”
In a statement read at the Wednesday rally, the students site a recent ACLU study that found that 26 percent of K-12 students that were referred to law enforcement nationally are kids with special needs, despite special needs students only making up 14 percent of the national school population. The ACLU argued that the routine policing of schools is a harmful practice and that “police should enter schools only to address threats to physical safety.”
PPS Student Voices also identified alternative ways PPS could spend the money—$6 million total—it plans to pay PPB for the officers.
“The millions of dollars in question could be used towards repairing our schools, as many are still lead and asbestos contaminated,” the group said. “The money could go toward trauma-informed school counselors, and training staff in restorative justice.”
Commissioner Hardesty said she would have joined the rally in support if she hadn't been preoccupied with getting sworn in Wednesday morning.
“I don’t believe police belong in schools. When I was a child, school was a place where you could make mistakes that wouldn’t impact the rest of your life," Hardesty said at a press conference Wednesday evening. "But today, when you have a police officer intervene because a kid’s not doing what a kid is supposed to be doing, that sends the wrong message.”
PPS Student Voices vows to keep putting pressure on the city council before a February vote. The group's next rally will coincide with a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally happening at North Portland’s Peninsula Park on January 20.