ST PAUL — St. Paul Public Schools no longer will pay the city of St. Paul to post police officers in seven of its high schools.

The school board voted 5-1 on Tuesday, June 23, to stop contract negotiations with the city and develop a new safety plan.

Board member Chauntyll Allen said the move was a long time coming.

“Our focus needs to be on student achievement,” she said, “and in order for all of our students to achieve, they need to be free from trauma.”

School and police officials have worked together in recent years to turn school resource officers into student-friendly mentors, downplaying their law enforcement roles. They no longer arrest students for minor crimes, and their use of handcuffs or chemical irritants is increasingly rare.

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Still, board members have debated whether armed officers belong in their schools at all.

Board member Zuki Ellis said she personally likes the seven officers, but “what I fundamentally believe has not changed” — that police officers don’t belong in schools. She’s frustrated district staff haven’t presented an alternative to the program.

Floyd's Death

The May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody gave new life to the discussion.

The Minneapolis and Winona, Minn., school districts and several across the country have cut ties with their local police departments since Floyd’s killing.

St. Paul school officials have received over 1,000 emails on the subject, most of them urging an end to the program.

“Some may worry that we need SROs to help prevent random acts of violence in schools,” St. Paul College philosophy instructor Jason Swartwood wrote. “But this ignores the other options we have for pro-actively addressing and preventing violence (adequate mental health support, community and social services, etc.) that do not have such a damaging and disproportionate effect on students who are poor, Black, Indigenous or persons of color.”

The Student Engagement and Advancement Board, a group of students appointed to advise the school board, recently renewed its call for the program’s end and held a rally Monday calling for the officers’ removal.

Principal Support

However, a state survey last year asked 369 St. Paul high school juniors whether it was a “good idea” to have a police officer at their school, and 96 percent said it was.

Principals from the seven high schools also support the program.

“The SRO partnerships in our high schools are vital tools in our collective efforts to be more just and equitable schools,” the principals wrote in a joint letter.

“Simply walking away and excluding important members of our community will do harm to our students and neighborhoods, and will saddle our teachers and staff with even more responsibility beyond their already daunting task of educating our city’s young people in very difficult times.”

Board member John Brodrick cast the lone vote Tuesday in favor of school resource officers. He said the police have made changes to match the district’s expectations for their role.

“We’re different than other towns, and we have had a cadre of SRO officers that, for the most part, I think, we’ve been satisfied with,” he said.

“I’m very, very concerned that if we sever this contract, we are going to jeopardize … safety and relationships. And I hope that we do not regret this decision.”

The board will discuss next steps in August.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a statement Tuesday night that he’s disappointed with the vote:

“SROs are selected based on officers who possess the guardian mentality. They are mentors and friends of students and teachers alike. They also provide safety and security for some of our most vulnerable populations. Even though our officers will not be present in our schools, we will do everything possible to support and protect our students and teachers.”

Mara H. Gottfried contributed to this report.