SEATTLE -- Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau made the announcement on Tuesday to suspend the district-wide partnership with the Seattle Police Department for one year. This includes four Seattle Emphasis Officers (SEOs) and one School Resource Officer (SROs).
The officers on school grounds provide assistance to kids in crisis, focusing on violence intervention and prevention in district schools. They do not provide enforcement but are armed inside school buildings.
Juneau said the removal of these officers will help to avoid any possible distress for students in school.
The decision comes "in light of the current national events," Juneau said in her letter to parents, recognizing the national attention focusing on police brutality across the country and police conduct in Seattle.
Juneau spoke with students and parents of students in the district, staff, principals, and the Seattle Council PTSA, and gathered feedback from Latinx and Black community members before making the decision, she says.
During the school year, Juneau says the only time SPD officers will be present on school properties will be in cases of emergency.
"We will re-evaluate our relationship with SPD, but like any other organization that supports our students, they must be aligned to our strategic plan, and work to uphold the inherent brilliance and innocence in each of our students," SPS said in a tweet on Wednesday.
In her letter, she also called to attention recent incidents of local officers and the National Guard using school grounds for police demonstrations without SPS approval.
"(Seattle Public School) buildings and properties should be safe, welcoming spaces for students to learn and are currently used for distribution of meals, learning packets, books, and health resources, not for militarized responses," Juneau said.
The school board will take further action on the partnership between SPD and SPD at its meeting on Wednesday.
Seattle is now one of a small number of districts from Portland, Oregon, to Denver and Minneapolis that are taking a closer look at the role police officers play in their schools.
Nationwide, 43% of public schools had an armed officer present at least once a week in the 2015-2016 school year, the last time the National Center for Education Statistics released such data.
Here's the full letter:
Dear SPS Staff, Families, Students, and Partners:
While grappling with the atrocities of the past weeks, I have spent the last week evaluating the district’s relationship with the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Four School Emphasis Officers, employed and paid by the City of Seattle, work in our schools. One of our schools has an SPD School Resource Officer, also paid by the City. I have spoken to staff, principals, and students of those schools, and the Seattle Council PTSA has also gathered and shared feedback from Latinx and Black students and families from those schools. They have been a great partner and always ensure our communities are heard and validated in our decision making.
In light of the current national events: the perpetuation of systemic racism, the murders of Black people by police officers across our country, the violence displayed by some law enforcement officers here in Seattle, a resolution will be put forth by the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors: to reevaluate our relationship with the Seattle Police Department and to enact a district-wide one-year suspension of placing SEOs and the SRO in our schools. The Board will consider this resolution at its upcoming regular Wednesday meeting. We must ensure that SPD’s values and actions are in alignment with our strategic plan, Seattle Excellence, as well as our values as an organization. SPD will not be present on our campuses except in emergencies.
I also learned late last night that SPD and the National Guard had used district property as a staging area in their response to protests. SPS did not give permission, nor condone the use of our property for staging militarized police or military personnel or vehicles. I have contacted SPD and informed them they may not use our space in this way and have been assured it will not happen again. Our school buildings and properties should be safe, welcoming spaces for students to learn and are currently used for distribution of meals, learning packets, books, and health resources, not for militarized responses.
While the focus of the School Emphasis Officers has been to build relationships and provide assistance to youth in crisis, the unintended consequence of their presence in our buildings could bring more distress to our young people. While these officers do not do any kind of enforcement, they are armed in our school buildings, and I know that at this moment in time, the presence of an armed officer prohibits many students and staff from feeling fully safe and welcome in our buildings.
You have heard me say that I believe public education is the mechanism that can bring about change for the future and I am committed to dismantling racist practices and creating spaces so that our young people can live their fullest truths and feel safe bringing their whole selves to school each day.
The anti-Black systems in place in this country are deeply rooted and have been fortified over hundreds of years. The work to tear down and re-build these systems is complex. We will re-evaluate the presence of SPD in our buildings, but like any other organization that supports our students within our walls, they must be aligned to our strategic plan Seattle Excellence, and work to uphold and support the inherent brilliance and innocence in each of our students.
Thank you for your partnership and support of our students.