Duluth Public Schools’ New Police Contract Includes Several Important Changes – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — A new contract between school and city officials that regulates school police placement and responsibilities includes many of the changes called for by a group of Duluth public school leaders, and district officials said they still honor the rest.

The school board and city councils signed a new agreement this fall outlining their “School Resource Officer” program, which will assign one Duluth Police Department officer each to Denfeld High School, East High School, Lincoln Park Middle School and the Ordean East Middle School poses.

The new contract is valid until the end of the 2022/23 school year. It forces the district to pay the department $296,000, a figure about $19,000 more than what is set out in a contract the two governments formalized in the summer of 2021 for the final school year.

But the cost is relatively low on a list of objections raised by skeptics and opponents of the program. They note that students of color are being disproportionately cited by officers stationed in schools, and worry that this fuels the “school-to-jail pipeline” in which students are funneled from schools into the criminal justice system.

Supporters of the program argue that it helps keep students and staff safe — a concern often heightened after a US school shooting — and that officers can often act as mentors or even social workers for students.

Unlike previous versions, the new agreement now specifically requires police stationed at a Duluth public school to attend school meetings and training sessions as if they were an employee, and to report “criminal activity” data to them every month or quarter assigned school to check .

It also calls for annual evaluations of the SRO program; that the city’s chief of police, with the help of supervisors, assigns and hires these officers; and for those principals to work with city staff on annual performance reviews of each officer assigned to a school.

Many of these new regulations stem from a list of recommended changes put forward last spring by an advisory committee made up of school administrators, nonprofit representatives, school board members and students from Denfeld and East High Schools. The committee called for a total of 20 changes, and district officials claim police approved them all during negotiations this summer.

Some of the committee’s suggestions are not specifically included in the contract, such as a recommendation that resource officers meet regularly with student advocacy and leadership groups. However, they are covered by other provisions of the deal, according to Assistant Superintendent Anthony Bonds. Meeting with these student groups, for example, is covered by existing contract language, which requires resource officers to meet with “student-facing teams,” Bonds said.

“We believe the language is still consistent with the Advisory Committee’s request that we describe what that looks like at regular SRO meetings with clients,” Bonds told the News Tribune on Friday. The goal is for officers and school administrators to develop a plan to connect a specific officer with student organizations.

“Through these discussions, it is clarified which groups are met and how often,” said Bonds.

Other recommended actions didn’t make it into the contract at all, but are still being implemented by district staff. A recommendation to publicly share the discipline and citation date, and another to share the training school police are expected to undergo or have already completed, are not codified in the new agreement. But district officials have posted student citation data for 2017-2020, aggregated by race, age, gender and alleged offense, in a new corner of the district website. A Frequently Asked Questions section provides an overview of school police training.

“If the deal hasn’t been finalized,” Bonds said, “this is my effort to make sure we’re transparent with our community.”

Duluth City Council approved the new rule in September. Duluth School Board members did the same on October 18.

The agreement says it will start on the Friday before teachers first return to school, regardless of when it actually took place. District and police spokesmen both said school police officers were operating with the understanding that a new one would eventually be approved.


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