SRO student task force addresses Salem-Keizer school board

The SRO student task force chats with the Salem-Keizer school board on Tuesday, Jan. 12 (screenshot).

Since the summer, the conversation around the use of Student Resource Officers (SROs) in Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) has been a hot-button issue during Salem-Keizer School Board meetings. 

Between August and November, a student-led task force, made up of 13 high school students in the district, met multiple times, with the purpose of providing student voice and insight on the subject of SROs, including giving a recommendation to Superintendent Christy Perry. 

Although the group said that they don’t want to remove SROs from schools, they did advocate for a change within the system that involves accountability, relationship training, mentorship and student engagement. The full recommendation can be viewed on the SKPS website. 

An overview of the task force’s recommendation was brought before the board at the December meeting. However, the students of the task force joined the meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12 to explain their stance and address some of their concerns with the board directly in regards to how the previous meeting was handled. 

“After watching the last board meeting, I think a lot of us were met with some disappointment. We felt like the board and some of the public arrived with some pre-disposed opinions, and it kind of drove the conversation in a different direction,” McKay student Grace Caldwell said. “We felt like our voices were impeded upon… It’s really understandable that some of you may feel angered or confused by our response — it may not have been what you had anticipated. But we are here today as a group to have an honest conversation.”

North Salem student Paul Quach explained to the board that each decision the task force made required consensus from every member.

“We all agreed, and if we didn’t, we always talked it out. All of our decisions were student-led and all decisions were agreed upon by each and every single member,” Quach said. 

When the task force began meeting in September, each group member had a unique standpoint regarding SROs in schools based on individual experiences. 

“We didn’t want to ignore these experiences that we had, but we had to consider so much more than just that. We needed to consider facts, information and talk to professionals that could tell us more about the SRO program,” Monserrat Hernandez Escobar said. “We needed to maintain an open mind.”

Through the three-month process, the task force hand selected multiple principals, counselors, behavior specialists and student advocates, as well as a pair of SROs to come and speak to the group to not only answer questions, but to also allow the task force to take a deeper dive into the topics surrounding this issue — such as the school-to-prison pipeline. 

“We got a lot of information that people don’t see everyday, and I think that is why our opinions and our recommendation is so important and valued, because the experience we had is not what everyone else has in everyday life,” Tiani Gebauer-Tinitali said. “Not all people had the access that we had.”

The main purpose of the task force’s recommendation was to improve relationships between police and the community 

“At the end of the day, we want to change the system and we want to make sure SROs have better training and better relationships with students to bridge the gap between future students and law enforcement,” McKay senior Janderi Perez Alejandre said. 

After the presentation from the task force, board member Kathy Goss offered her apologies for how the board came across during last month’s meeting.

“I want to start my time with an apology of how we made you feel and how we did not manage to tell you or act in a matter that made you realize how important your viewpoint was to us, because it really was,” Goss said. “We had discussed it before, but it wasn’t as human as you put it. And we all needed to hear it.”

Fellow board member Danielle Bethell followed by stating how proud she was of the students and all the work they put in. 

“I am really proud of all of you. I can’t imagine how big this is for each of you because I’m not in your age bracket and I am not a person of color. But as a mom, and as a person in this community that was elected to this board, I can tell you that this is one of the biggest topics I have ever approached that matters significantly to everyone in our school district and community,” Bethell said. “I want to tell you personally, thank you so much for asking to come to this board meeting, because I have wanted to know who you all are for several weeks.”