Duluth Students Petition to Get Police Out of Schools

Sure it may be way out there to demand the immediate removal of the police officers assigned to Duluth schools for more than twenty years. But the students behind the movement to eliminate the district’s school resource officers want the Duluth School Board to know they’re in good company. After all,  the letter circulating with the online petition points out they’re in lock step with two of the most liberal school districts in the nation.

Our peers in Minneapolis did it. Our peers in Portland, Oregon did it. Now, it’s our turn.

We want School Resource Officers (SROs) out of our schools. We demand that Duluth Public Schools (DPS) cut all ties with the Duluth Police Department (DPD) and other punitive law enforcement bodies.

The issue surfaced following local protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody and as the school district considers a new contract with the Duluth Police Department for four school resource officers. The organizers claim the current system has led to disparities in the number of disciplinary actions taken against students when broken out by race. So far the online petition has garnered roughly 1,000 supporters in the two weeks.

We hope that you take our message to heart.We believe that Black lives matter, Black stories matter, and Black futures matter. In order to ensure the futures of Black students in DPS, the DPS School Board must take direct action in stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. For years, Black and brown students have been disproportionately punished in our schools.

Apparently schools with police officers on the premises hold students more accountable than campuses without officers. So the Duluth students propose replacing the single officer stationed at the city’s two middle and high schools with more social workers and counselors.

According to information from the Equal Justice Initiative, compared to schools without officers, schools with officers are 2.5 times more likely to refer students to law enforcement and 3.1 times more likely to arrest students. Thus, with the racial disparities already present in DPS disciplinary practices, SROs in our schools extend the reach of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Instead of SROs in our schools, we would like to see funding be spent on increasing the accessibility of resources that can be helpful to all students. These possibilities include, but are not limited to, increased hiring of staff who act as social workers and counselors.

The Duluth School Board will consider whether to renew the long-standing contract with the DPD in July. But the current board chair doesn’t appear ready to unilaterally stand down any time soon, according to WDIO-TV.

[Duluth School Board Chair Jill] Lofald said they’ve had this partnership with the Duluth Police Department for over 20 years and said the SRO’s role is to be mentors and build relationships with students.

“The SRO program in Duluth has always been built on the philosophy of community policing. That is seeming to be the way that other reforms are looking at so I think Duluth has been on the forefront of healthy SRO’s,” said Lofald.