SRO debate: What do teachers think?

As sheriffs and police chiefs across Minnesota pull their officers out of schools over vague new rules from the legislature regarding use of force by school personnel, how are teachers feeling about the changes? And how do they feel about the presence of school resource officers (SROs) to begin with?

We know how prominent DFL allies and DFL lawmakers feel, as my colleague Bill Walsh wrote here. “In fact, some are using the current debate [over the new restraint rules] to question whether police officers should be in schools in the first place.”

But the perspective of educators is also worth adding to the conversation, particularly given the fact they are on the frontlines not only for their safety but also that of their students.

“I’m concerned my safety, my students’ safety, and my school’s safety have been turned into a political game,” shared a high school teacher with American Experiment who wished to remain anonymous. “What policies will they sell us out for next?”

For 30-year veteran teacher Deborah York, also the co-chair of the Safe Schools Movement Team, the fight for ensuring safe and supportive schools has been a multi-year effort. Policy changes in the education omnibus bill from this past legislative session risk the emotional and physical harm of students, according to York. “We have been speaking out for teachers who can’t,” York shared with American Experiment. “More and more teachers and paraprofessional school staff across the state not only fear reprisal for sharing safety alarms, but many have been silenced and threatened with termination for reporting serious conduct violations.”

The debate over the presence of SROs came under scrutiny after the death of George Floyd in 2020, with school districts severing their ties with their local police departments and rethinking their employment of SROs.

But when educators were asked if armed police officers should be removed from schools, only 23 percent supported their removal, according to a 2020 survey by the EdWeek Research Center. Thirty percent said officers were needed in their schools because “too many students are out of control.” Nearly three out of four teachers, principals, and district leaders said the officers were needed for protection against outsiders intent on doing harm to students and staff. And this was before the rise of school violence and student behavior challenges that have followed post-COVID.

Have opinions changed since then or do educators generally feel the same?

Gov. Tim Walz is apparently open to a special session to clarify the new restraint laws, but “he will have to meet with liberals in his own party to determine if the votes are there to fix” them, explains Walsh. You can fill out this form here to encourage Gov. Walz to move forward with calling the special session.

Photo credit: Flickr