DULUTH – Duluth Public Schools officials are set to evaluate changes to their contract with the city’s police department after reviewing data indicating that officers at schools cited non-white students at a disproportionately high rate.

On Tuesday night, a school board committee informally asked district administrators to review a contract with the city that puts one police officer each — called a school resource officer, or SRO — at Denfeld and East High Schools and Lincoln Park and Middle Schools. Ordean East. Board members also told staff to discuss potential changes to this contract, seek feedback on those changes, and then present potential changes later this year.

“We’re at a crossroads where it’s clear there’s a disparity in the data,” Anthony Bonds, the school district’s assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and equity, said Tuesday. “We have serious concerns expressed by certain segments of our community, and we also have another segment of our community who say that their experiences have been pleasant and that they support it. So we are in a difficult situation where we have to make a decision on what we think is best for everyone.

Bonds is expected to brief the district’s teaching, learning and equity department on Monday, then meet with principals on April 25 to discuss how and when school resource officers should be involved. in schools, when a citation is warranted and other considerations. And the district SRO advisory committee, another group of district administrators that also includes school board members and student representatives, is also scheduled to meet in late April.

Non-white students cited more often

Data from the Duluth Police Department indicates that black students received 37.5% of the 96 citations issued by school resource officers between the start of the 2021-22 school year and March 15, 2022. But black students represent only 3.98% of the collective student body. at the four schools where resource officers are stationed, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Education.

There is a similar, but less dramatic, disparity for Native American students, who received 9.38% of citations but account for only 2.82% of enrollment at the four schools. And the reverse is true for white students, who received 30.21% of citations but make up 78.91% of the student body. The vast majority of students cited also attend Denfeld and Lincoln Park.

It should be noted that the citation data and state demographics do not precisely match: Hispanic and Pacific Islander students are both included in the state’s student count – accounting for 3.49% and 0.10% of the student body in the four schools with SRO. , respectively – but they have no entry in the citation data by race.

The same goes for the 9.33% of students who identify as two or more races in state data. About 21% of citations issued by Duluth School Resource Officers have gone to students of an “unknown” race, which is not a demographic group tracked by the state.

Still, the conclusion is unmistakable to members of the Duluth branch of the NAACP, who told the News Tribune that the school district should get rid of its SRO program.

“We believe there should be alternatives to ORS in schools,” Ebony Hilman, co-chair of the branch education committee, said Friday. “ORS causes more citations and adds to the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Members of the Law Enforcement Accountability Network (LEAN) Duluth, which bills itself as a basic data analysis group for police accountability, released the citation data the morning before the council members’ meeting.

“These disparities reflect a larger national conversation about the school-to-prison pipeline,” the LEAN members wrote. “Limited resources, outsourcing of discipline to school resource officers, explicit and implicit biases among educators, and ‘zero tolerance’ policies result in students not getting the help they need and instead end up in the hands of the criminal justice system.

Survey indicates broad approval

Surveys and in-person meetings conducted by district consultants indicate that the majority of people—primarily family members and student staff—who have had an “experience or interaction” with a School Resource Officer felt that it was overall positive and virtually all felt that they were important to have in schools. Of the 225 respondents, 8.9% were students.

“I have had nothing but positive interactions,” wrote a staff member at Ordean East Middle School. “The SRO is in the hallway talking to the kids and helping them find their classrooms, opening the lockers. The SRO at my school seems very interested in building positive relationships with staff and students. »

A Denfeld staff member said the officer there “humanized” the officers and was essential when the students overdosed.

“Their professionalism and quick actions saved lives,” the staff member wrote. “They are the first people everyone turns to when threats or alarms go off. They are extremely well trained in de-escalation and keeping everyone calm.

But Katie Williams, the other co-chair of the NAACP branch education committee, said some students at consultant meetings did not feel comfortable speaking or being spoken to. She said she would take the consultant’s report with a grain of salt.

Duluth school and city officials signed their current SRO contract on September 7, 2021. It requires the district to pay $277,000 for the time of the four officers and expires in June.

Bonds told the News Tribune that deliberations on the city-district contract would not rule out the possibility of not renewing it, a decision that would likely mean the end of the school resource officer program in Duluth public schools.

The kinds of changes that might come to the surface at district meetings, Bonds said, might require school police to undergo specific training, rather than a broader clause in the current contract that calls for “training and training.” ‘education as part of the city’s police department.’ He also mentioned joint performance reviews conducted by school principals and police department administrators on Tuesday before stepping down, fearing he would get ahead of district meetings which are due to start next week.

School board members themselves had only a handful of suggestions on Tuesday: Amber Sadowski suggested officers not issue tickets with fees, and chair Jill Lofald said she’s heard others suggest whether School Resource Officers wear more casual school uniforms or not park a Duluth Police Department patrol car parked in front of school entrances.

Hilman suggested adding more hall monitors, perhaps parent volunteers who roam the halls between classes, school on Saturdays that students could attend to catch up on work, and training staff more in therapy. trauma and caring for children suffering from post-traumatic stress. And Williams envisioned a broader-minded “restorative justice center” where students could learn and practice conflict resolution skills and other techniques.

The News Tribune asked Mayor Emily Larson and Police Chief Mike Tusken whether they felt changes to the contract between the city and the district were warranted, what value they saw in having police officers stationed in colleges and high schools in the district, and why they believe a disproportionate number of non-white students were cited by their police officers.

Larson, through a spokesperson, said the city’s intervening “abdicates responsibility for the decision of election leaders and decision-makers who are responsible for school culture and school safety,” but added that she sees the inordinate citation rates noted by LEAN and district staff as “not consistent with what I understand to be district goals.”

And Tusken, also through a spokesperson, wrote that department staff “plan to renegotiate the contract over the summer months” and that “the SRO program is prioritizing employee engagement.” students in coaching, guiding, mentoring and educating their behavioral expectations”.

Tusken added that “DPD did not have time to do a qualitative analysis to understand the independent facts of each of these incidents leading to the decision to issue citations. In our analysis, we need to understand student behavior leading to the issuance of citations which may include recurring or serious incidents impacting student safety.”

You can reach Joe Bowen at 218-720-4172 or

[email protected]

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