SKPS Board discuss SROs on campus

The heated debate of School Resource Officers (SROs) on Salem-Keizer campuses was back on for the Salem-Keizer Public Schools Board.

At a work session on Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Safe and Welcoming School Committee and the work it will do were major points of discussion.

Iton Udonesenta, SKPS assistant superintendent for secondary education, presented to the board what the intent of the newly-formed committee is.

The committee is tasked with learning, monitoring and understanding the important aspects of school safety, both physical and psychological.

Prior to Udonesenta’s presentation, board director for zone 2 Marty Heyen gave a timeline of the removal of SROs that started nearly three years ago.

Heyen said that the March 2020 police killing of George Floyd created a tide of anti-police sentiment throughout the nation that led to the calling for the removal of SROs. According to Heyen, when she polled board members in June 2020, every board member wanted SROs to stay in one way or another.

In August of that same year, a student task force was formed to examine the issue. Heyen stated that the student task force concluded the problem should be fixed, not removed entirely.

However, in March of 2021, the cancellation of the SRO contract was announced.

Satya Chandragiri, board director for zone 4, has been one of the main voices in favor of the return of SROs, even mentioning it in his initial announcement for re-election.

He questioned whether many of the issues students have reported with law enforcement actually happens on campus or in the community, and gave a statistic from the Marion County District Attorney that less than .5% of SKPS students have been arrested by an SRO.

Chandragiri has said that the problem is a disregard of the safety systems and threat assessment system, something that superintendent Christy Perry took issue with.

Perry, admittedly emotional, said that she was bothered by Chandragiri’s comment, saying it dehumanized the people that show up every day for student safety.

The Safe and Welcoming School Committee has not yet begun its work, but it will be busy with such a prominent issue, especially with focus on both physical and psychological safety.

Board director Osvaldo Avila of zone 1 shared what he had learned through his own research, stating that many minority students didn’t feel safe on the campuses because of the SRO presence, and chose to skip school because of that, and questioned how much discussion there is on mental health support for those students.

The Safe and Welcoming School Committee will assemble in February or March, with updates for the board in March and June, according to Udonesenta’s presentation.