Members of the public spoke overwhelmingly in favor of removing school resource officers from two Portland schools Tuesday night and urged the school board to end a memorandum of understanding with Portland police.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said CC Robinson, a teacher at Casco Bay High School during a public hearing before the school board. “There might not be halls to walk in next year. I know it’s a complicated time and I think it’s a great time to work with the police department in a new way.”

Robinson was among dozens who spoke Tuesday night following a discussion of a proposed resolution to end the district’s agreement with the Portland Police Department providing for officers at two of the district’s three high schools, Portland and Deering.

Police Chief Frank Clark did not speak at Tuesday’s virtual meeting but shared a letter with the Press Herald sent to the board and superintendent stating he continues to support having officers in schools.

“We have previously discussed not only the actual safety and emergency response time benefits, but the enhanced feelings of safety and security that SROs provide to students and staff,” Clark said. He cited reduced frequency of calls for service at Portland and Deering per capita compared to Casco Bay High School, which does not have an SRO, and said the officers have formed positive relationships in schools.

“During a period in which trust in police is being strongly called into question, ostracizing our well trusted and respected police staff from the ability to positively engage with the singularly most diverse segment within our city, its schools, seems counterproductive in terms of achieving and maintaining mutual trust and respect,” Clark said.

Superintendent Xavier Botana, asked by a school board member if he supports removing the officers, said he was not prepared to say and would give his recommendation to the board June 30, when they are expected to vote on the resolution.

Board members Tuesday also asked what would take the place of the officers if they’re removed and two members said they were concerned about the wording of the resolution, which was written by board Chair Roberto Rodriguez and member Emily Figdor, with input from others.

“I’m concerned with the way we’re rushing this resolution through,” said board member Sarah Thompson. “I think some of the language in the resolution is very divisive and would like us to come together more and collaborate on what we do like and don’t like.”

Board member Marnie Morrione said she was concerned the resolution was “very heavily focused on national reactionary phrases” and asked the board to look at writing a resolution more focused on Portland.

Other members of the board and public also questioned what would happen once the officers are removed. Botana said he did not have a plan for how to replace them, but said it is important to remember that the officers are only present in two of the district’s 17 schools.

“Do you want me to come up with a plan to replace the SRO’s at Portland and Deering or a plan for safety in all our schools?” he asked.

Members of the public, including several teachers and parents, spoke overwhelmingly in favor of removing officers.

Olivia Bean, a teacher at Portland High School who said she is among a small number of teachers of color in the district, encouraged the board to gather input from the many English language learner students and think about what comes next.

“I don’t see any real plan for what comes next after getting rid of SROs,” Bean said. “Having no plan does nothing for students.”

Susie Nick, the librarian at Portland High, was among a handful of people who spoke in favor of keeping the officers. “We are the ones living this day by day and know what’s going on in our schools,” Nick said. “A more collaborative way would be to work as a community to address our racism problems.”

Only a small number of students spoke Tuesday. Umulkair Mohamed, a student at Deering, said the SROs bring fear and intimidation into schools and they should be removed.

“It’s not something Portland Public Schools should continue,” Mohamed said. “I feel this is the right step forward if Portland Public Schools does really support the Black Lives Matter movement and defunding the police.”

Glynis O’Meara, a senior at Deering, also said she supports the resolution.

“I feel like laws are being made on my behalf to keep me safer or keep the people I go to school with safer,” O’Meara said. “A lot of discussion was had tonight that didn’t include that many of us and whether we feel safer so I just wanted to pitch in my voice and say, ‘No, I don’t feel safer.’ ”

Student surveys conducted this spring showed overwhelming support for the officers, though participation was low.

At Deering, only 83 of about 800 students responded. Of those, 66 percent said they support having an SRO, 24 percent were neutral and almost 10 percent would prefer not to have or were strongly against having an SRO.

At Portland, 288 of about 870 students responded to the survey. About two-thirds of respondents were white and about two-thirds were female. The surveys were conducted by the schools individually and the Deering survey did not include student demographics.

Almost 62 percent of the responding students at PHS said they really like having an SRO, 27.6 percent said they felt neutral, 9.5 percent said they preferred not to have an SRO and about 1 percent said they were strongly against having an SRO.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, a panel of advocates and students organized by Maine Youth Justice weighed in on the issue and argued against having officers in schools.

Gabriel M’Bambi, a graduating senior at Deering and the student body president, said while he has not had much interaction with his school’s officer, he has seen teachers use the officer as an intimidation tactic.

“I strongly believe having an SRO or continuing to have an SRO is not going to be beneficial for the school,” said M’Bambi, who is black. “I’ve seen teachers that can’t control a problem or adults within the school who are not able to control a situation so they call the SRO to maybe scare the students or as an intimidation tactic. I don’t think that’s the way our school or community should be working.”

Joseph Inabanza, a student at Casco Bay High School, pointed to that school’s lack of an SRO as an example of what the other high schools might look like if the officers are removed.

“I’m 17 years old,” said Inabanza. “All my life I’ve been racially profiled and stuff and that probably will continue if we live in a society where the color of your skin matters. Going to Casco Bay every morning I feel safe. I won’t have an officer talk to my parents when I’m an unruly kid or when I’m failing or when I need a social worker.”

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