Should police stay in Salem-Keizer schools? Here’s what local citizens are saying.

Dozens of students, parents, teachers and graduates are weighing in on police in schools as leaders from the Salem-Keizer School District plan for summer community forums to discuss the future of contracts with local law enforcement agencies.

A virtual June 9 school board meeting, where board members had planned to approve the district’s 2020-21 budget, instead resulted in no vote after more than three hours of public testimony asking the board to end contracts with the Salem Police Department, Keizer Police Department and Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

In total, 64 people called during the meeting or wrote to the board asking that the district spend the roughly $1 million it takes to station 11 officers in schools on more mental health support or education services. Many spoke about recent protests related to police brutality or said officers in schools result in more discipline for students of color.

The effort was led by Latinos Unidos Siempre, a Salem group for Latino young people whose members have frequently spoken about policing and disproportionate school discipline at board meetings in recent years.

READ: Hundreds call on Salem-Keizer to end contracts for police in schools

About 15 people also emailed the school board in recent days urging them to keep officers in schools.

Superintendent Christy Perry said she intends to convene community discussions including Latinos Unidos Siempre and other community groups and students that oppose officers in schools, as well as law enforcement leaders, before making deciding.

Below is a sample of the comments submitted to the board:

“All of the funds that support school-based policing must be reinvested to support our students wellbeing, mental health, extracurricular and academic achievement. 

Policing our students in school is proven through research to have been a dysfunctional practice that only exacerbates disproportionate incarceration of young people of color in particular. The school to prison and deportation pipeline is real and supporting it or participating in it in any way whatsoever it is unconscionable.”

Emma Dorland, 4th grade bilingual teacher

“The school resource officers that were there at the time I was in school would have done anything for the students in that building; I know that for a fact. They would have dodged a bullet for any student or teacher in that building. McNary has had some of the most kind, caring, and selfless resource officers I can imagine. There are too many school shootings in America for us to take our resource officers out of our schools. We got lucky that our Salem and Keizer police officers are good at their jobs.”

Claire Juran, McNary High School graduate, Class of 2015

“This is exactly the time when we need police in our public schools. When I hear there are children afraid of the police, keeping the police officers in the schools allows the opportunity to change how those students feel about the police. My children learned to appreciate the SROs while learning “Stranger Danger” and “Say No to Drugs” from these powerful role models. Pulling police officers out of the schools sends the message that the police are bad. We do not want our children to run away FROM police when they need help, we want them to run TO police.”

Karen Adams, grandmother of four Salem-Keizer students

“Policing has been used as a tool to threaten students of color – I personally have experienced being criminalized for simply not turning in my work on time even tho I was going thru a lot. Instead of being met with empathy this DISTRICT pushes students further and further into the school to prison to pipeline.”

Alondra Sanchez, 14, Salem-Keizer student

“We need to do what is best for the KIDS. Not what some police haters want to do. If you remove school resource officers you are putting MY KIDS in greater danger at OUR schools.”

Elliot Groeneveld, parent

“I am saddened because during middle school at Whiteaker my son had to listen to comments such as “build a wall” and “go back to your country”. That was the beginning of a long road to healing his trauma of not belonging, feeling lonely, suffering anxiety and depression. … He is finally in a better state, yet school had become a difficult environment to the point he didn’t want to attend school anymore. My son is intelligent and extremely talented in music. It broke my heart to know that school has its challenges to include and support my son in meaningful and intentional ways. I fully support LUS’s demands and in allocating those funds to teachers, case workers, psychologists and community organizations that can support ALL of us.”

  Vicky Falcón Vázquez, McNary High School graduate and parent

“As a teacher, I saw violent fights at North and was caught in the middle. My husband witnessed a violent fight at McNary where kids were filming it, mocked the teachers, and refused to disperse. Do not take the safety of an SRO away. 

As a teacher, I was threatened by a large young man aggressively moving toward me making a choking motion threatening to choke me. Do not take someone away that has the skills to bring protection to a young woman in need.  My roughest kids I fought so hard to save in the classroom–needed an SRO to encourage, joke around with, keep them in line, and hold them accountable and to walk them to class with a sheepish look on their face. Do not take this away.”

Kristi Tomlin, former teacher and real estate broker

“In the interest of putting students first, funding should instead be allocated towards healthier school lunches, comprehensive culturally knowledgeable school counselors, art and music classes, or for better equipment and educational resources that will actually benefit the future of our students. Growing up in Salem Keizer, I saw the disparity in how students of color, especially those from low-income areas, were treated much more harshly than their white peers. I remember being taught with outdated textbooks that were falling apart at North Salem. I remember my overworked high school counselors being unable to properly help me with college resources. These memories represent how I was failed in different ways by this district and I refuse to see the same happen to my younger siblings.”

Marisol Espinosa, Salem-Keizer graduate with three younger siblings in local schools

“When I was with DHS I worked with all of the SROs in Marion County on almost a daily basis. They are all amazing and truly care about the kids in their schools. From personal experience SROs play a HUGE role in helping investigate child physical abuse and child sexual abuse. Unfortunately there are not enough kid crimes detectives so, when appropriate, cases will be assigned to the SRO to investigate. They go out with DHS and interview the children and the perpetrator. Sometimes they do the whole investigation, other times they will do the preliminary investigation and then it will get assigned to a detective. I have also had experiences where children are more comfortable disclosing abuse to their SRO because they are used to seeing that particular SRO in their school and the SRO has spent a great deal of time building rapport with all the children.”

Kyana Hughes, elementary school parent

“We have many systems, policies, and programs that benefit or do not directly harm our white students and families, but our Black students and other students and families of color are clearly telling us this is a problem. If we try to balance that out and say, “Oh, only some people are experiencing negative impacts” we are once again silencing the voices of our minority families and centering on whiteness, which is directly racist. If you choose to directly ignore the pleas coming from our students and communities of color and try to justify it as being satisfied with a system that works for those of us who are white, THAT IS RACIST. If that makes you uncomfortable, I urge you to dig into WHY that makes you uncomfortable. Why is it more important to you to keep police in schools than to have our minority students feel safe, welcome, and secure?”

Kelsey Miller, teacher, drones and robotics program at Salem-Keizer Career Technical Education Center

“At a time when many parents are deciding between pulling their students out to continue homeschooling in the face of Covid, and returning to school, this issue will serve as the tipping point, causing them to choose homeschooling and costing valuable federal funding. Please do not listen to the vocal outsiders who know nothing about our area and who want to fuel negative interactions in our schools.”

Tamra Burleson, parent of recent graduates and substitute teacher

I saw my closest peers get expelled and suspended and arrested. When I was twelve years old I was walking down the street to go to a park and I was randomly stopped by four police officers … They detained me and were trying to find something to get me in trouble. They didn’t call my mom informing her that her own child got detained by Salem police.  They only asked questions like if I was a gang member. I was 12 years old and ever since that day my life has changed. i was scared to go outside because if I had moved an inch that day,  I would probably be another person of color dead with no justice.”

Tony Villaneda, 17, North Salem High School student

“Police presence in schools only increases a sense of fear among students and shows a distrust of our children.  Instead, we need to spend this money on things like increased mental health resources, ethnic studies courses, hiring teachers of color, and funding culturally responsive activities before and after school hours.  There are so many better ways we can use the funds we currently spend on policing our students.  Our students need support and education, not police.”

Kalia Flocker, elementary school teacher

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.