The Portland school board has approved a policy defining the role of police in schools following a review dating back to debate over the use of body cameras by law enforcement and a decision to remove two full-time officers from city high schools.

The policy was approved 7-0 by the school board Tuesday with board member Adam Burk absent.

“For me, the biggest thing coming out of this policy is the clarity,” said board Chair Emily Figdor. “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.”

The policy states school administrators and staff shall have primary responsibility for enforcing school rules and policies and disciplining students. Law enforcement should not be involved in student discipline, which is the sole responsibility of district staff.

School administrators and staff are authorized to call for law enforcement assistance “when there is a real and imminent physical threat to students, staff or the public” or when student conduct constitutes a serious criminal offense, such as a bomb threat, weapons violations or serious sexual misconduct.

The policy also states law enforcement must have written consent from a parent or legal guardian prior to interviewing students on school grounds, though there are some exceptions, including when an officer has “reasonable grounds” to believe there is a health or safety emergency that requires the interview without prior parental notice.

The bulk of work around the new policy and existing policies involving law enforcement started in 2019-20 when the issue of whether police should be allowed to wear body cameras came up. That discussion ultimately led to a decision last year to remove school resource officers – officers who work in schools – from the city’s two largest high schools.

Since then the board’s policy committee has been working to clarify the district’s relationship with law enforcement, gathering community feedback and consulting with student leaders, high school administrators, police and others.

Updates to four existing law enforcement-related policies were also approved Tuesday.

“Looking back to when we started this work to where we are now, it’s impressive that we got here and that these policies were passed with the consensus they were,” Figdor said. “So thank you to all.”

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