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Crowd at school board renew calls for elimination of school resource officer program
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Crowd at school board renew calls for elimination of school resource officer program

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School Resource Officer

A school resource officer speaks with a student under the J Street bridge over Antelope Creek during the lunch hour at Lincoln High School in 2018.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the nation has renewed calls to end the Lincoln Public Schools school resource officer program.

More than 20 people came to the Lincoln Board of Education meeting Tuesday making many of the same arguments made two years ago when LPS and the city created an interlocal agreement to improve school safety that added school resource officers to middle schools.

But speakers Tuesday — many of them young people mobilized by Black Lives Matter protests that continue around the nation — argued that this is the time to dismantle institutional racism, including school resource officer programs that they argue exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color and those with disabilities.

“We are at an historic moment in which we and others around the country are asking to dismantle systems that disproportionately criminalize Black bodies and Black children in particular,” said Sarah Zuckerman, an assistant professor in the education college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

She asked that middle school officers be removed from middle schools and their long-time presence in high schools be reexamined, saying their presence leads to more, not fewer problems.

Many speakers highlighted statistics that show students of color are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students, and are more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system.

They are the same issues raised two years ago when school shootings created momentum to add school resource officers to middle schools. The interlocal agreement also added money for Community Learning Centers and more mental health services in schools, but the debate centered on SROs.

The concerns led to a memorandum that spells out the role of SROS and requires training and data collection on the police's role in schools. The first report will be ready in October.

Interlocal agreement to beef up school safety won't increase in coming year

The argument moved to the Legislature, which passed a law requiring memorandums of understanding clarifying the role of SROs.

While a few speakers spoke in support for SROs, most said they thought money for the program could be better used to add social workers, counselors and other mental health supports.

At least one speaker said the action of police who used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters in Lincoln was evidence that they shouldn’t be in schools, and said students involved in those protests shouldn’t have to see uniformed officers at school in the fall.

Several speakers also said the district needs to improve curriculum that better covers Black history and includes the Black Lives Matter movement.

Amid calls to 'defund the police,' LPD assessing grant to add officers

Breaking down Lincoln's public schools

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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