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Duluth School Board evaluating future of School Resource Officers

Ryan Juntti
Updated: July 08, 2020 11:16 AM

There is an increasing push to remove School Resource Officers across the country, and on Tuesday, the Duluth School Board discussed SROs in Duluth schools.

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An online petition organized by Duluth students asking for the removal of SROs in Duluth schools now has over 1000 signatures.

Board members at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole Meeting said they feel they need to gather more information before deciding how to move forward. 

But Duluth East Student Representative Nabiha Imtiaz says she hopes the board ultimately decides to remove School Resource Officers.

"I think they need to really look closely at the benefit, and negatives of having an SRO, and see if those benefits really do outweigh the negatives. In my opinion, I don’t think that they do,” Imtiaz said.   

She says the murder of George Floyd inspired her to look into whether School Resource Officers in Duluth schools are necessary. She came to the conclusion they aren't, and believes removing them would make for a better learning environment for students.

“I think especially for students of color, police can create an unwelcome learning environment. Walking into school every day and seeing that uniform can definitely be intimidating for students, especially black students, so I think having that there can make students feel fearful, and learning when you're scared, it’s not conducive to learning,” Imtiaz said.

Imtiaz adds to offset not having SROs in Duluth schools, hall monitors and teachers should be trained in de-escalation tactics.

“Our hope is that if we have people who are trained with de-escalation, they will be able to handle it.... we don’t want officers to be needed in those," Imtiaz said.

She also says increasing the amount of counselors, and expanding their training to take on the role of an SRO could be another solution.

“I think that all of the benefits of SROs could be done by someone like a social worker or a counselor,” Imtiaz said.

But Duluth Police Sgt. Mike LaFontaine says there are times when SROs are needed, and says the connection they have with students is beneficial.

“The SROs know these students. They probably know their background. They know exactly what’s going on. They can help develop a better course of action than you are going to get if you get a cop off the street,” LaFontaine said. 

Some members of the board say it's important to understand whether there is really a problem before deciding how to move forward.

“Just because we haven’t heard any complaints, doesn’t mean that they don’t happen,” said Duluth School Board Member Sally Trnka.

“We can’t change a problem unless we know what the problem is,” said Duluth School Board Member Alanna Oswald. 

The Duluth School Board is slated to vote on whether to approve a new contract for the SROs on July 21.

Chair Jill Lofald did leave open the possibility the vote could be pushed back.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the board approved the hire of Anthony Bonds as Assistant Superintendent, Jen Larva as Interim Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Joanna Walters as Assistant Principal at Denfeld High School.  

Credits

Ryan Juntti

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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