The St. Paul school board has joined several other organizations in severing ties with police departments after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. But the move also comes after years of reconsidering the role of police in the city’s schools.
“We have work to do,” said Jeanelle Foster, vice chair of the school board.
She along with four of her fellow board members voted Tuesday to approve a motion to cease contract negotiations with the St. Paul Police Department.
The vote means seven school resource officers — or SROs — currently employed at St. Paul Public Schools will not return to schools after June 30 when the district’s current $775,000 contract with the Police Department ends. The vote also means the district will not begin new negotiations with the SPPD for the 2020-21 school year.
Foster was clear that her vote to take SROs out of her district’s schools was not a reflection on the officers who worked at locations such as Como, Harding and Central high schools, whom she has called “phenomenal.”
Instead, she indicated that ending a contract was just one step in addressing a systemic problem.
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Several other board members expressed similar sentiments.
“Divesting in police is investing in Black lives,” said Board Director Chauntyll Allen, adding that making district schools safe going forward would take work and input from all members of the St. Paul city and school community.
The day before the vote, students of color held a rally, calling on board members to cut ties with the Police Department.
Board members said they appreciated students’ input, and added they’d received thousands of emails from community members asking them to take SROs out of schools.
In 2016, the St. Paul school board approved a contract that sought to limit SROs’ student interactions to criminal activity. Students protested after a trespassing arrest at Central High School was considered too violent.
Still, some were against the move. Board Director John Brodrick said cutting ties with the Police Department would “jeopardize safety and relationships.” He voted against ending contract negotiations, noting school resource officers “provide safety for our students and … a buffer from intruders from the outside.”
In addition to ending contract negotiations with the SPPD, the board also voted to develop an interim safety plan without school resource officers, to be discussed at an August board meeting. They directed the superintendent to create a districtwide committee to oversee safety at St. Paul schools, as well as safety groups at individual schools.
The board’s action to end its police contract follows similar decisions from the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Public Schools.
“The easy thing is to vote up and down on a contract,” Board Director Steve Marchese said, “The hard work starts tomorrow.”