Shubhangi Bose just graduated from Westview High School in Beaverton. What started as an interest in the school district’s police officer program in her journalism class has turned into two years of research and interviews with school staff and the district’s public safety director.
“The more I looked into the issue, the more concerned I got because it was becoming abundantly clear that there were a lot of jurisdictions involved — there was BPD [Beaverton Police Department], there was the sheriffs, the city, the school district,” Bose said, “but there didn’t seem to be really anyone making decisions.”
This past spring, she asked friend Ben Wieser, a recent graduate of Jesuit High School, to help out. The two graduates dove deep — fighting for public records and testifying at public meetings.
Now, as city officials prepare to approve a new intergovernmental agreement for the program, Wieser and Bose want to see changes that ensure schools are safe for students.
“We might have to quote nationwide statistics to you, but there are residents of Beaverton who have gone through a lot of trauma because of this program,” Bose said.
“There are ways to fix that without having to make the politically incorrect move of removing the program — and that can happen through the IGA.”
This IGA, or intergovernmental agreement, outlines the role of police in schools and what services they’ll provide.
The Beaverton City Council is scheduled to vote July 25 to fund the agreement between the city and the school district to staff police in schools. City councilors postponed the vote last month — on the same night that the Beaverton school board unanimously approved the agreement.
As the agreement comes up again for approval, some students and families want more oversight of, and training for, both police officers and school staffers who may call for help.
Beaverton city councilors have spent the last three weeks learning more about the Beaverton school district plans.
“I would say that it’s important that [we] took the last few weeks to dive a little deeper into the IGA between us and the school district,” said Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty.
Earlier this month, the Beaverton Human Rights Advisory Commission, a committee of volunteers, passed a motion urging city council to only approve the IGA if certain requirements are met, including requirements related to uniforms, trainings and reporting.
Beaty says she and council members have taken time to review community feedback as well as a 2022 consultant report on the district’s school resource officer program.
“We do not get to decide if there are youth resource officers in the school,” Beaty said. “That is the school board’s decision. [...] What we can control as the city council in this agreement is to make sure that our officers are used the correct way, and we wanted a little bit more understanding from the superintendent.”
At the end of May, recent graduates Bose and Wieser sent school board members a detailed, 18-page letter, arguing the district was ignoring recommendations from the 2022 consultant report.
“Based on our findings, we ask you: Do not pass the Budget Authorization for Youth Services Program Contracts until the District includes the necessary reforms to keep students and staff safe,” they wrote in the letter.
Report finds support for school police from adults, makes recommendations to improve program
In 2021, the Beaverton School District authorized a $156,000 contract with local consultant SeeChange, to review the district’s school resource officer program. The 121-page report found that many students didn’t know what school police officers were, while 71% of parents and 66% of staff supported the presence of police in schools.
The report included recommendations to expand access to mental and behavioral health services at schools, increase support staff and redefine the district’s relationship with law enforcement.
Earlier this year, the school district moved to implement some of the recommendations, including a change in title from “school resource officer” to “youth services officer.” Officials also drafted a new IGA between the district and the police to replace one that expired July 1, 2023.
Beaverton’s proposed IGA says that officers will respond to calls for “extreme violence” and give presentations on health and safety topics. It also outlines specific training required of officers.
Westview High School teacher Adam Oyster-Sands submitted a comment to the council, asking the city council to rethink the presence of police in general. “Too many of our students do not feel safe with armed police officers roaming our hallways,” he wrote.
Of the students SeeChange surveyed, 43% support having school resource officers in their schools. The rest either weren’t familiar with the program, were undecided or did not support them.
The discussion in Beaverton comes as other school districts consider the role of law enforcement in schools. In Portland, months of work recently resulted in a plan to “re-establish” the relationship between the school district and police, but does not necessarily mean that officers will be physically present in schools.
The research on having police in schools shows mixed results. Some students say the officers make them feel safer, while others feel less safe. Another study showed having police in schools led to more arrests and other disciplinary actions.
The Beaverton School District’s school resource officer program goes back almost 30 years. Like other school districts, the racial justice protests of 2020 prompted Beaverton to reflect on the role of police in schools. The SeeChange report recommends several changes to the program, but some community members, including city councilors, are concerned the IGA’s changes don’t go far enough.
Questions, concerns remain about training, data collection, uniforms
Last year, Jennifer Curry’s oldest child Beckett started 6th grade at a new school. By the end of the year, her daughter had a file with the Washington County Juvenile Department.
Curry said the report remains on file.
“Through sheer accident and lack of training and clarity, there’s a file on her now and I don’t know what it will take to get it off,” Curry said.
Curry’s daughter, who has autism, spent time in a specialized classroom for students with disabilities. The new middle school environment could get overwhelming for her, so the specialized classroom was a safe space where she could go and calm down.
One day last December, Beckett wanted to access the room, but the door was locked, She tried to kick in the door, ending up in a “tussle” with three adults, Curry said. She was suspended.
Over winter break, Curry said her family received a letter: the Beaverton police submitted a report that her daughter “may have committed” fourth-degree assault. She would not be charged, but the report would remain on her file. Curry said she was blindsided.
“I think a parent should find out if there’s being a police report filed on their kid,” Curry said. “She’s 11 and autistic.”
There is no specific training related to working with disabled students in the BPD’s list of training for youth safety officers, but Beaverton police captain Ed Mastripolito said the department has identified “opportunities for ongoing training.”
In their June meeting, city council members called for more required training for officers working with neurodivergent students. Curry would like to see data tracking interactions between officers and students with disabilities.
The IGA does require regular reporting on the number and “type of incidents” where law enforcement is involved, including who called law enforcement, but it does not include any requirement to specify whether incidents involve students with disabilities. The district has said those regular reports will be posted on the district website.
Bose and Wieser have improvements they want to see in the agreement too, such as clearly spelled-out training requirements and a commitment to public data reports.
Bose wants to see Beaverton’s agreement mirror Hillsboro’s, which prohibits police involvement in “non-criminal student disciplinary matters.” She also wants to see a “complete ban” on police officers being involved when students are experiencing a mental health crisis.
School board members and city councilors want to ensure school staff know when to call police to intervene with students.
“It’s our social contract with our community that officers come when they’re called,” Beaty said. “What we need to do is make sure that teachers are using it as a last resort and not a first resort.”
The SeeChange review suggested training for all school administrators and other staff to resolve confusion about when it’s appropriate to call in police.
The district followed up on that recommendation with plans to give “clear guidance” to school administrators about when to include law enforcement at school, and said materials “may be used” with school-level staff to train them.
Similar to national surveys of students, the SeeChange report found certain Beaverton student populations are uncomfortable with police. Higher percentages of Black students, LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities have a negative perception of school police than students overall. Black, Latino and Pacific Islander students all had a disproportionate number of arrests and referrals from the school police officers.
Police Chief Stacy Jepson said she hopes the relationship between the police and the school district can help address the feelings of “fear” among marginalized communities.
“The only way I see a path to do that is to develop relationships through engagement and create positive interactions that drive a different feeling for those students when they show up to school,” Jepson said.
“The only way we do that is through that hard work.”
On July 25, the city council will be able to ask questions of Beaverton Superintendent Gustavo Balderas about the agreement. Beaty said she thinks the council will “come to a conclusion” on the IGA at the Tuesday meeting, with a possible memorandum of understanding to complement it.
“We’ll have an agreement that comes through the city manager around an understanding of how we want things to operate,” Beaty said.
City and district leaders have another concern about the school resource officer program: cost.
Both the city and the school district are dealing with tighter budgets, and the two-year, $537,264 agreement isn’t cheap, regardless of how they split the cost. If renewed at the end of the two years, more of the program’s cost would shift to the school district.
Meantime, parents may make decisions based on the interests of their own children.
For the upcoming school year, Jennifer Curry’s daughter Beckett will be in a new program through the Northwest Regional Education Service District, with smaller classes and an environment Curry said is more responsive to her daughter’s needs.
In the future, Curry would like to see legislation to regulate and standardize school resource officer programs statewide.
“What happened to our daughter shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Curry said. “And the fact that it did just demonstrates to me how problematic it is to have this lack of consistency.”
Bose and Wieser agree that state laws governing school resource officers would be beneficial. As they both move on to college next year, Bose encourages students to look into the issues they care about and take action.
“While I’m frustrated in the outcome, I definitely am still proud of the sheer number of people who worked on this, the teachers who have worked on this, and I know that people won’t stop fighting,” she said. “The fact that I even got to play a small role in that was an immense privilege.”