Salem-Keizer superintendent ends SRO program

SKPS superintendent Christy Perry

For almost a year now, many community members and activist groups, such as Latinos Unidos Siempre, have been calling for Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) to end contracts with Student Resource Officers (SROs), citing that they make students of color feel unsafe and play a role in contributing to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

On Tuesday, March 9, SKPS superintendent Christy Perry announced that the district will no longer be contracting with local police departments to station SROs at schools.

“We have also heard from many of our students and parents of color that the presence of armed police officers in schools can result in emotional and psychological harm that makes them feel unsafe in our schools. Many of these students have told us time and again that the presence of armed police officers negatively impacts their mental health and is a barrier to them developing a strong sense of belonging,” Perry said.

“It is for these reasons that I have decided to not renew the school resource contract. Making this decision at this point in time allows us to begin to imagine how we can create schools that are emotionally, physically, and psychologically safe for all students that involve a different relationship with law enforcement. We will continue to engage our students, families, community partners, staff, and administrators, in this important dialogue.”

The decision was met with some backlash from board members, who said they had received feedback from SKPS parents about SROs being a benefit to their student. 

“I heard from so many parents where my child was being bullied and it was an officer in the school that actually saved their life, I mean they didn’t commit suicide … because that officer was there,” board director Marty Heyen said.

The district’s SRO program, which stationed 11 police officers at middle and high schools across the district, cost SKPS nearly $1 million per year. Officers from the Keizer and Salem Police Departments, as well as the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, each covered schools that fell in their agency’s jurisdiction.

The decision comes one month before secondary students are scheduled to return to their respective schools — Perry had previously suspended contracts with police departments for the school year.

Perry claimed that her decision doesn’t mean that there won’t be future contracts with local law enforcement agencies. The way the district will handle school safety and discipline is still yet to be determined. However, law enforcement will be brought in to handle specific cases.

“This doesn’t mean that we will not have any formal relationship or a contract with law enforcement moving forward. I do believe that a healthy and safe school system requires relationships with law enforcement particularly to support child abuse investigations, threat assessments, emergency response, and other key functions as long as that relationship with law enforcement is balanced with creating schools where all students feel safe and have a strong sense of belonging,” Perry said.