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Policies Related To Law Enforcement Clarified

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Policies Related To Law Enforcement Clarified
Posted on 10/29/2021
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At its Oct. 19 meeting, the Portland Board of Public Education voted unanimously to adopt a new policy regarding the district’s interaction with law-enforcement and to revise other existing policies related to law enforcement. The Board acted in order to clarify the district’s relationship with law enforcement and to ensure the policies align with the four goals of the Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan: Achievement, Equity, Whole Student and People.

As part of the district’s Equity goal, the Portland Public Schools is committed to reviewing our policies and practices that create unintended barriers to access and moving to dismantle them. As a result, during the 2019-2020 school year, the Board began deliberations regarding the role of law enforcement in our schools. One outcome of this process was the decision to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from Portland and Deering high schools.

Equity issues are associated with schools' historic relationship with law enforcement around the country and in our own schools. Nationwide studies show a racial disproportionality in school discipline, with Black, Hispanic, and Native American students being two to five times as likely as White and Asian students to be suspended or expelled. Such exclusionary discipline practices that take students out of the classroom and away from learning have negative consequences for students. Those include reducing academic achievement and increasing academic disengagement and the risk of dropping out.

The disproportionate disciplinary practices also push students of color into the school-to-prison pipeline, which increases risk of incarceration. Data in one study revealed that a student who was suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation was nearly three times as likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year.

Nationally, schools have come to rely on police as a way to enforce behavior norms. In our district, we sometimes have called police to help us manage difficult situations that we should be addressing ourselves.

At the time of the SRO vote, the Board also committed to reviewing its existing policies to make the district’s relationship with law enforcement more clear and to ensure there was consistent guidance that was in service of the Portland Promise goals.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the Board’s Policy Committee engaged in this work. The committee sponsored a community dialogue event on Feb. 24, 2021 that engaged more than 75 community members, including students, parents, staff, and community partners. We have also consulted with the Reimagine Education Student Leaders, the Living Contract Committee (a partnership of the Portland Education Association and the district), high school administrators, Portland Police Department leadership, regional juvenile justice leaders, and the ACLU of Maine.

Based on this process, the Policy Committee recommended adopting the new policy, called KLGB Law Enforcement Involvement in Student Matters, as an overarching policy regarding how the district interacts with law enforcement regarding students. That policy provides guidance for requests for law enforcement in student matters and for visits by law enforcement to the schools.

The policy clarifies that school discipline is the responsibility of school staff and that law enforcement shall not be involved in student discipline. It also articulates guidance for schools in requesting law enforcement assistance, depending on the level of threat to safety and the seriousness of the incident. Additionally, the policy provides expectations for responding to visits by law enforcement to schools, limiting the circumstances when a student could be interviewed and providing for the support for students.

The committee also approved revisions to a number of additional law-enforcement-related policies to align with this overarching policy and to address various other updates.

After the vote, Board Chair Emily Figdor said: “We lacked clarity between the work we did and what the police department did and now we have that clarity. I’m really grateful for that because I think it will mean our students are safer and we’re able to create the school environment for all of our students that we aspire to.”

For more information, see a slideshow summary of the policy changes.