New Duluth Superintendent Aims to Keep Police Resource Officers in Schools

Duluth’s new superintendent of schools John Magas has hit the ground running in his first month on the job, considering it’s still uncertain whether students will be physically present at the start of the new school year this fall.  But if they are, Magas has made it clear that he expects school resource police officers to be on campus as well, despite a vocal campaign underway to remove police officers from Duluth schools.

While having only one school board meeting under his belt thus far, Magas isn’t shying away from the controversial SRO issue with the Duluth News Tribune reporting the superintendent expects a statement of support, if not a new contract, for the campus officers at the next board meeting on Tuesday.

Duluth Public Schools Superintendent John Magas will be asking for a resolution of support for school resource officers if a new contract is not drafted in time for the regular Duluth School Board meeting Tuesday, July 21.

The contract was not on the business committee agenda Tuesday, July 14, so if one was drafted before the meeting July 21 it would be added as a special resolution. Typically, contracts would go through the business committee before being voted on at the monthly regular School Board meeting.

“My preference is the board moves forward in support of school resource officers,” Magas said, “and that we take this next school year to examine our structures for possible racial bias and continue to move away from structures that promote disproportionate discipline, or negative consequences, for particular student groups.”

A Duluth Police Department resource officer has been assigned to each of the district’s two middle and high schools for more than 20 years. Following widespread protests over George Floyd’s death in police custody, some school districts came under pressure from political activists and quickly dropped resource officers, including Minneapolis and St. Paul. In Duluth, more than 1,000 have supported an online student petition to also end the practice, according to the local CBS station.

“No student should feel unsafe in their own school and right now the existence of SRO’s in schools makes some students feel unsafe, and we believe that replacing that position with a less punitive position would make some students feel safer overall,” said Mya Halverson, Denfeld alumni and one of several students who started a petition to remove SRO’s from Duluth public schools.

“A lot of what we’ve heard from students and parents is they are looking for someone who can fulfill more of the role of a social worker or counselor. Someone who is able to fill that role without having the negative associations that a police officer can have,” Halverson said.

But the Duluth school board has taken a measured approach in debating the pros and cons, listening to concerns and considering ways to fine tune the system rather than scuttle it.

“It’s not just the SRO policy. We have to think about how we look at how law enforcement interaction is with students. We are looking at a wide variety of policies for the district to make sure we have the most equitable and supportive practice as possible,” Magas said.

The outcome may not please students and other critics. But it could end up being an invaluable real life civics lesson in how to collectively address issues and improve, not eradicate, a system that many stakeholders clearly feel offers many benefits.