After Gresham High School students spoke out about negative experiences with a police officer stationed at their school last year, school district leaders called for an outside review of the program.
That review, conducted by Oregon-based Buffalo Cloud Consulting, was shared with the Gresham-Barlow school board during a work session Wednesday.
Board Chair Mayra Gomez said the report shows the importance of relationships between students and staff and the unclear role officers play in the district’s schools.
“We don’t have clear guidelines of the role of our SROs,” Gomez told OPB in an interview.
The 52-page report outlines feedback from students, families, staff and district leadership, and provides recommendations for the district going forward.
Quotes from students and community members showed the complex feelings about having armed police officers in schools — from support and safety for some, to an increased sense of fear and anxiety among others.
“If SRO wasn’t present, I’d be more scared,” read one student comment. “Felt unsafe with them always watching us,” read the following comment, also from a student.
Buffalo Cloud Consulting offered district-wide recommendations as well as guidance specifically for the SRO program. The range of recommendations includes increased mental health services and social emotional support, districtwide training for staff, a reporting system for school incidents and improved communication between the Gresham Police Department and the school district. The report also called for training for officers on restorative practices, de-escalation, child development and anti-bias tactics.
The future of the district’s SRO program is not dependent on the report. Buffalo Cloud Consulting said in the report that Superintendent James Hiu intends to continue the program.
However, due to staffing shortages within the Gresham Police Department, officers haven’t been working in the schools this year.
Gomez said the absence of officers means they can take the time to make changes consistent with the report.
“This is our opportunity to draft a new intergovernmental agreement. This is our time to think through what operations is going to look like, for our superintendent to really think of what his next steps will be in terms of that working relationship with our police department,” Gomez said.
District officials said Wednesday before the meeting that there are no “next steps” at this time due to the absence of officers in schools.
Gomez said she’s expecting action from Superintendent Hiu.
“We didn’t just go through this process and not act on it, that was an agreement that we had from the beginning,” Gomez said.
“If we were going to ask our kids to be vulnerable with us, we were going to follow through, and we were going to show them action.”
The review started this past March. During listening sessions, Buffalo Cloud Consulting asked about personal experiences with school resource officers, and what an ideal SRO program would look like.
“SRO’s behaviors should be building relationships not criminalizing adolescent behaviors,” read one staff comment.
At least one comment is noted as coming directly from an SRO.
“I want people to feel open. I want people to see me as friendly. I want to bridge with people who have had bad experiences in the past,” according to the quote. “I am a person. I don’t want you to be angry at me just because of my job. I need trusted adults to help me make those relationships. I would welcome those opportunities.”
Members of school district leadership also contributed their varied perspectives, including one mention that “70% of LGBTQ students in [the] district do not feel safe.” It is unclear if that number is specific to Gresham-Barlow. Nationally, recent survey data reported in Chalkbeat shows 82% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school.
Another section of the report outlines several experiences of racial profiling towards students of color from school resource officers as well as staff.
Gomez said the report is a first step that shows room for growth.
“Ultimately we want to make sure that we’re creating safe learning spaces for our kids, we want all of our kids to feel welcome, and to feel like they belong,” she said. “And right now, that’s not the case. So we are aware that we have work to do in that area.”
Not all students participated in the review process.
“We heard from several sources that, because the decision to retain SRO’s was made at the beginning of the process, the students of color who were most vocal about being harmed by the presence of SROs chose not to participate in this process at the level we had hoped,” according to the report’s authors.