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Seattle school board votes to suspend program that placed police officers in schools

Graduates of Nathan Hale High School and other schools wear caps and gowns as they take part in a Black Lives Matter March, march, Monday, June 15, 2020, in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
Graduates of Nathan Hale High School and other schools wear caps and gowns as they take part in a Black Lives Matter March, march, Monday, June 15, 2020, in Seattle.

Across the region, students, teachers and community members have been pushing for school districts to remove police officers from schools.

In Seattle, the school board has now voted to indefinitely suspend its arrangement with the city’s police department. That program had placed five officers in Seattle schools that have large percentages of students of color.

But some parents told the school board that the decision was rushed. Lucia Ramirez Levias said her sons identify as Black and Hispanic and attend schools where police have been based.

“Both of those officers are assets to our schools and have a meaningful and positive relationship with our children, including mine,” she said. “As far as I know, they do not play any role in a disciplinary policing manner in our school. In fact, I understand they’ve been involved in de-escalating conflict in our school.”

School board directors said they made the decision after considerable advocacy by students of color. The nationwide protests that began after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police last month galvanized this moment. Seattle students created a petition and took to the streets pushing for officers to be removed from schools. There have been similar calls in the Highline, Bellevue, Tacoma and Edmonds districts.

Brandon Hersey is a board director and one of the sponsors of the resolution. As a Black man representing the heart of the city’s Black community, he said the resolution to affirm the district’s commitment to Black students “was definitely a labor of love.”

He said he understands the parents’ concerns, but wanted to elevate the voices of Black and brown students who were calling for this action.

“I believe we have an opportunity here to continue to do authentic engagement, figure out what needs and services those officers are providing and also do a better job of working with our community-based organizations to figure out a solution to get mentors into our schools that look like our kids,” he said.

In a statement, Sgt. Lauren Truscott, a spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department, said the officers value the relationships they have developed with students and that the department will continue to be a resource for schools and communities.

The board resolution also calls for the school district to develop a Black studies curriculum for elementary school. For middle and high school, the board wants to create a stand-alone Black studies course that will be a graduation requirement.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.