Lincoln High School junior Samantha Block learned about the school-to-prison pipeline in history class last year. And when she heard Portland Public Schools would remove police — called school resource officers — from campus, she wanted to build on that by trying to get officers out of other school districts.
At the same time, Emily Zou, a sophomore in Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, was frustrated that her school did not make the same decision as PPS.
So as student leaders in the statewide group Oregon Student Voice, they started a campaign to remove police officers from 18 school districts in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.
The group hopes to build on momentum from nationwide protests against police brutality and the recent removal of SROs in Portland-area districts as well as Minneapolis and Oakland.
Block says the group will circulate a petition and draft a report compiling data and student stories, before asking students in these 18 districts to go to leadership.
“We plan on basically giving them information as to how to testify in front of their board, giving them a copy of their report — that way they have information to use,” Block said. "Basically creating a web of people who are all advocating within their school district."
Block said the report will also highlight alternatives to police, including hiring more mental health counselors and social workers, and having more in-school interventions, parent involvement and practicing de-escalation techniques.
The presence of officers in schools has been a long-discussed topic nationally, with one side saying the presence of officers makes students feel unsafe and leads to higher rates of student discipline, especially for students of color. Supporters of the practice say having officers in schools helps students form relationships with law enforcement.
In addition to PPS, Parkrose and David Douglas, the board for Eugene Public Schools also pledged to remove its officers. Petitions have circulated in Beaverton and Salem-Keizer districts as well.
Block said students are usually left out of decision-making, despite being directly affected by those decisions.
“We’re the ones who are interacting with SROs on a day to day basis, we’re the ones who are impacted when they decide to send a student to court,” Block said.
And despite COVID-19, the group is moving forward with its plan.
“Even though COVID-19 is still around and not all the students will be going back to school, the ones that are going back to school … if SROs aren’t removed, we still have to face the negative consequences of police being in our schools,” Zou said.
Oregon Student Voice wants to see students testify starting next month, with a goal to remove all school resource officers from these districts by the start of the school year.
“The ultimate goal is definitely statewide removal of school resource officers,” Zou said.