By Sally Ho - Associated Press - Wednesday, June 10, 2020
SEATTLE — School leaders are booting officers off Seattle campuses for a year while the district reevaluates its partnership with the Police Department.
Seattle School District Superintendent Denise Juneau shared the decision in a letter to families Tuesday. It’s part of the fallout over the city’s handling of recent protests against racial injustice and police brutality, which have at times devolved into violence and looting.
There have been calls to defund the Seattle Police Department, which has been criticized for using tear gas, pepper spray and other force against demonstrators, even after the police chief and mayor said it had banned one type of tear gas.
Schools spokesman Tim Robinson said Juneau made the decision on Tuesday after meeting with the police chief, though details of the plan are still being finalized.
At a meeting Wednesday, the school board signaled support for Juneau’s move when it proposed a resolution to temporarily suspend the city-funded roles of police officers who have been assigned to five campuses, including one high school and four middle schools with large black populations in the central and south sides of Seattle.
Seattle is now part 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.
In Seattle, there are four “school emphasis officers” who focus on gang and violence prevention at South Shore K-8, Aki Kurose, Washington and Denny International middle schools, while Garfield High School has a school resource officer who serves in a similar capacity. The district has 104 schools in total.
“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,” Juneau, the superintendent, said in the letter.
Juneau said she’s also warned the Police Department not to use school property again without permission, as it did to prepare its response to the protests.
Officials with the Seattle Police Department and the office of Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has faced calls for her resignation, didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
This story has been updated to clarify that the superintendent put the plan to remove officers from campuses in effect on Tuesday, ahead of the school board’s resolution.