The Portland Board of Education has been reworking the policies since it voted last year to discontinue the school resource officer program at Deering and Portland high schools over concerns that the officers’ presence made students and staff, especially those of color, uncomfortable. Opponents of the program also said that police were involved in instances that were better handled by school staff.
Assistant Superintendent Aaron Townsend told the school board’s policy committee last week that “it feels like we are getting to a place to have substantive policy revision,” but Chairperson Emily Figdor told the Forecaster that “realistically, that won’t be until September or maybe late August.”
Without the school resource officer program, the district must come up with a new policy on how to conduct a relationship with law enforcement. That policy, in general, “would lay out the various parameters around how and when we would interact, share information and allow student interaction with police while they are under our care,” Townsend said.
The school district is looking at three models: A policy provided by the Drummond Woodsum law firm, which has been hired by the district to assist with the policy revisions; a policy used in Massachusetts; and a study of school-police interactions from the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state.
The Drummond Woodsum policy discourages police making arrests or interrogating people at schools from using schools and gives school officials authority to maintain student and parent rights and minimize disruption to classroom instruction. The Massachusetts policy provides a framework that defines the roles and responsibilities of school officials and police. The ACLU of Washington study, among other recommendations, requires training for police who respond to schools and prohibits police involvement in student discipline.
Also being reviewed are specific school policies that involve police. The committee is examining whether some policies are on the books simply because that is the way it has always been done in Portland schools.
“We could potentially be trying to revise policies that are already in place to ensure the thought of including police when it shouldn’t even be part of the conversation to begin with,” policy committee Chairperson Roberto Rodriguez said. “It sort of locks us into a way of thinking.”
The schools are not legally required to include police interaction in policies related to student code of conduct, student records, visitors, student drug and alcohol use, and questioning and searches of students. However, policies relating to bullying and cyberbullying, weapons, violence and school safety must have provisions related to police interaction. The district still needs to address the legal requirements of policies on bomb threats and security cameras.
Right now the drug and alcohol policy prohibits students from possessing, consuming, selling, buying or being under the influence of alcohol, scheduled drugs, non-prescription drugs and other controlled substances on school property, and it requires police to be notified if the policy is violated. The board’s policy committee, however, may decide to give staff more discretion about notifying police depending on whether a student has had multiple infractions, for example, or if drug trafficking is involved.
Policy committee member Jeff Irish said he is concerned about giving staff more discretion on when to call police on drug or alcohol infractions because it “opens a lot of doors” and could lead to legal ramifications. Figdor said she would like to see the policy contain concrete examples of when police should be called and when they shouldn’t.
“I think our judgment around violations of the policy could vary across very well-meaning folks in the district,” she said.
Townsend said the hope is to bring proposed revisions to the policy committee at its next meeting on June 22. After language is finalized, he said, the policies would be shared with school leadership, the Portland Education Association and the school community.