Security guards would also be replaced with school support liaisons

By Casey Ek

The Saint Paul Public Schools is moving forward with its plan to replace the Saint Paul police officers who served as school resource officers in its seven high schools with School Climate and Safety Groups. Laura Olson, director of the school district’s Office of Security and Emergency Management, presented the new plan to the School Board on August 18.

The plan remains largely unchanged from December when it was first presented, though Olson’s office has adjusted it to account for the discontinuation of the school district’s contract with the Police Department for the seven school resource officers (SROs). The plan taps into the School Climate Improvement Teams that have been operating for several years in district schools.

School support liaisons will serve as the backbone of the new School Climate and Safety Groups along with mental health and social work professionals. Hired by the district to form personal relationships with students, school support liaisons are trained in first aid, CPR, social-emotional learning, recognizing trauma, physical restraints as well as nonviolent intervention.

In addition to the SROs, district administrators aim to phase out the use of contract security guards in the schools by the end of the 2021-22 school year. This fall, the district will hire 12 school support liaisons while reducing the number of contract security guards from 37 to 32. Olson hopes to have the new school support liaisons in full operation by the spring semester.

School resource officer Jermaine Davis kept an eye out for any trouble in the halls of Central High School during a class break in 2017. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“Personally, I think we have  a whole corps of principals who are disappointed in our decision,” Brodrick said. “My understanding is that we have a high percentage of teachers who also don’t agree, and those people need direct and specific and reassuring instruction and a commitment of support because they may one day find themselves in a bad place.”

The School Climate and Safety Groups will be overseen by the district’s new School Climate and Safety Committee. If the committee detects any gaps in the School Climate and Safety Groups’ services—in, for example, the areas of restorative justice or positive behavioral interventions and supports—the committee will likely bolster the groups with additional members, Olson said.

 

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According to Olson, Saint Paul police will still be called to district buildings should the need arise. Additionally, students who fall victim to cellphone theft or other crimes can still file reports through the Police Department’s Teleserv online reporting system.

School Board member John Brodrick, a former high school teacher in the Saint Paul Public Schools and the sole dissenter in the decision to not renew the district’s SRO contract with the Saint Paul police, said he was disappointed in the school climate and safety plan’s lack of specifics in regard to the role of teachers who are confronted with dangerous or life-threatening situations. Brodrick said he would like to see a policy that expresses support for educators who may need to intervene in such situations and may become the target of criticism for their actions.

“Personally, I think we have  a whole corps of principals who are disappointed in our decision,” Brodrick said. “My understanding is that we have a high percentage of teachers who also don’t agree, and those people need direct and specific and reassuring instruction and a commitment of support because they may one day find themselves in a bad place.”

Prior to the School Board’s decision in June to cut ties with the Police Department, all seven of the district’s high school principals opposed the removal of SROs. While some principals expressed disappointment with the decision, Olson said, the principals are now “on board for coming up with solutions.”

Several principals have volunteered to serve on the School Climate and Safety Committee, she added. In addition to overseeing the School Climate and Safety Groups, the committee will work to bolster mental health support in the schools, including the addition of 2.4 full-time-equivalent nurse positions and 7.8 full-time-equivalent social worker positions. Olson’s Office of Security and Emergency Management also aims to hire an additional mental health professional by the 2021-22 school year. 

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