EUGENE, Ore. -- The presence of school resource officers in the 4J and Bethel school districts is being called into question, joining a national conversation about the role officers play in schools.
Next Wednesday, the 4J school board will meet to discuss their partnership with the Eugene Police Department.
For Eugene School District 4J, there are four school resource officers and one sergeant spread out across the district's high schools. The current contract began July 1, 2019, and expires at the end of June. The annual expense is around $488,000.
For the Bethel School District, there is one officer and one sergeant. The annual expense is around $122,000.
4J parent Nicole Sanders started a petition on Tuesday in support of keeping school resource officers. It has already surpassed 2,000 signatures.
“The resource officers build relationships with these children,” Sanders said. “To have that taken away from our students at this time is not a good sign of what things are to come. We really need to work together with EPD and make sure our students are safe.
Sanders said that the officers play a key role in the lives of children beyond the walls of the school building.
“These officers are trained differently in other areas to deal with children and families,” Sanders said. “We need to realize that this isn't just a regular police officer coming to school. These men and women have special training to actually deal with these students and the situations they face at school and at home.”
There is also a petition calling for the removal of officers within schools, and others feel that cutting ties with the Eugene Police Department is a step that needs to be made.
Former 4J student Sadie Wolfen said she would like to see the funds used toward other services across the district that students need on a daily basis.
“That money could go so far to funding counselors, to funding therapy, to funding support for the students,” Wolfsen said. “In reality when we talk about the health and the well-being and the protection and the safety of students, so much of that is mental health.”
Wolfsen said that further awareness and education surrounding student safety is essential, especially for students of color.
“If we ended the relationship between police officers and 4J, it would give us so many resources and put in that extra effort to be able to support kids in the way that they need,” she said.
Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner has also weighed in.
“The relationship is hugely important,” Skinner said. “Since my arrival, we’ve tried to start moving our traditional SRO program more toward a youth services model program and build a service contract so we are better meeting the needs in the 4J school district.”
Skinner said that the department has plans to increase training of officers to help combat internet crimes, as well as physical and sexual abuse cases.
“What we are asking our officers to do is be more engaged around providing youth services,” Skinner said. “What that looks like is asking to be involved in more classroom interaction from time to time and asking our officers through the summer to engage in summer camps for kids.
The 4J school board will meet on June 17.