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Lincoln school board approves 12 school resource officers at district middle and high schools
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Lincoln school board approves 12 school resource officers at district middle and high schools

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School Resource Officer

School Resource Officer Megan Nelson checks an unlocked door over the lunch hour at Lincoln High School during the 2017-18 school year.

The Lincoln Board of Education on Tuesday approved spending $508,000 for 12 school resource officers at the district’s middle and high schools, but promised to spend the coming months reviewing data and involving the community in that review. 

Report on Lincoln SROs: Officers leave discipline to teachers; minority, low-income students disproportionately both suspects and victims

The vote came amid heated opposition from speakers, a controversy over the program reignited by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country, including Lincoln. 

Board members Barb Baier and Annie Mumgaard voted against the funding, after Mumgaard made a motion to delay the vote so the board could look more closely at a 183-page report released two weeks ago and involve the community members who oppose the program. 

“I’m deeply concerned about this hurry up-and-get-this-process-over-with,” Baier said, particularly after listening to impassioned testimony and seeing data that confirms opponents’ concerns. 

“If all of this is ignored and we do not take time to listen, create goals, create a system of accountability, why should they continue to put their faith in democracy?” she said.  “We need to engage in some democracy here.” 

But other board members said the analysis, deliberation and input from community members could happen in the coming months. 

Current funding for SROs will run out Monday, so if the board had voted no, the funding would have ended and it was unclear if the officers could have remained in the schools while the board deliberated further. 

Instead, the majority of the board voted to fund the program for another year and address the issues between now and when the district has to vote to continue an interlocal agreement with the city. With 60 days' notice, the school board could vote to leave the agreement, which would end the SRO program, they said.

The interlocal agreement with the city — called Safe and Successful Kids — was created to beef up school security and added six school resource officers to the district’s 12 middle schools, a threat-assessment officer, bolstered mental health support for students and programming for the Community Learning Center’s before- and after-school programs.

Board President Kathy Danek said many of the issues Mumgaard wants to address are already spelled out in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) created as part of the interlocal agreement to add middle school officers. 

“My confusion is why would we throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said.

Speakers said they wanted training, more mental health support and funding for CLCs, and restorative practices, she said, all of which are addressed in the MOU. 

“I’m aware of what’s in the MOU,” Baier responded. “I am also aware the community is feeling we’re not living up to our commitment.” 

Mumgaard said the MOU is a model document, but there are things it doesn’t address — including issues raised by the speakers, such as a clear definition of the goals of the SRO program and performance benchmarks for officers. There also hasn’t been time to fully analyze the data presented two weeks ago. 

She said there also needs to be a clear plan to reduce the disproportionate number of citations involving students of color. Don Mayhew said that unequal number would exist regardless of whether SROs were in the schools. 

Mayhew and other board members said the district has dramatically increased the number of social workers, counselors and school psychologists, with the help of funding from the interlocal agreement. 

The interlocal agreement was created in the wake of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and injured 17 others. Proponents wanted the added security of SROs in middle schools. LPS has had high school SROs for years. 

Opponents worried that it would exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline by criminalizing what should be school discipline matters, especially for students of color and other marginalized students. 

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

Several speakers Tuesday — including some former students who have formed a Black leaders group — said the simple presence of officers in schools makes students of color feel unsafe. 

A better use of the money is mental health and other supports for students. 

“Care is what makes us safe, not punishment,” said Kelly Seacrest.

The money, said Sarah Sawin Thomas, is what one would pay for a nice house. 

“Think, hypothetically, of families of color in the district,” she said. “Would they want you to buy that house? Have you asked them? Have they really had a seat at the table?”

LPS needs to show that they are true allies of families of color, not just pay lip service to the idea, she said. 

Two weeks ago, LPS board members heard the results of a year’s worth of data collection on SRO activity in schools — a requirement in the memorandum of understanding that is part of the interlocal agreement. 

The data — that went back four years and included just three of this year’s four quarters because of school closures in March caused by the pandemic — showed that students of color were more likely to be both suspects and victims in cases worked by SROs. 

It also showed that those officers issues citations for about third of the calls they investigated, that students were cited primarily for assaults and narcotics cases, and that having officers in middle schools does not appear to have exacerbated disproportionality. 

Crowd at school board renew calls for elimination of school resource officer program
Memo spelling out role of Lincoln school resource officers may need changes to match state model
Report on Lincoln SROs: Officers leave discipline to teachers; minority, low-income students disproportionately both suspects and victims

Photos: Lincoln students return to school

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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