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4J School Board to Vote on EPD Contract Renewal amid Protests to Defund Police

Elizabeth Gabriel

The Eugene 4J school board will vote Wednesday whether to renew their contract with the Eugene Police Department for another year. Over the past few days, many local Black Lives Matter protesters have said they support the removal of school resource officers (SROs).

The vote comes after national Black Lives Matter protests started a movement to defund the police—including in schools. Local protesters have also cited a conflict of interest between 4J Safety Officer Kari Skinner and her husband, EPD Chief Chris Skinner.

16-year-old Sitota Tofte attends Wellsprings Friends School and is a former student at Churchill High School. She said funding for resource officers should go toward providing and training more counselors.

“Having cops in schools increases the anxiety you have,” said Tofte. “And being a person of color, it makes you think you're going to be targeted and racially profiled. School’s supposed to be a place where you can have fun, you can learn. But I shouldn't have to go to school and feel threatened, and just like more anxious than I already am because there's people with guns in there.”

Tofte also described a time when she felt anxious and threatened by an SRO.

“I was talking to the officer at my old school at Churchill High School—Officer Johns—and I was being questioned because there was a fight,” said Tofte. “And I was like, ‘I wasn't even anywhere near that. Like, why am I being asked about this fight?’”

At last Friday’s protest for teachers in support on the Black Lives Matter movement, Churchill teacher Jennifer Scurlock said she wants the school board to redefine the job of an SRO.

“It’s not to disregard or disconnect with the police officers, we believe in police officers,” said Scurlock. “However, we do want to make adjustments as far as adding in more mental health counselors because that really should not be the job of the police to do. It should be left to educators—our school boards and what have you, to be able to create systems that do protect students.”

Scurlock said she wants the school board to reevaluate the duties of SROs so issues pertaining to racial and social justice, as well as mental illness, can be handled by the right people, in the right manner.

“We've had police officers share that they are being asked to do all of these jobs,” said Scurlock. “And they're like, ‘We’re not skilled. Or, we don't feel prepared for this.’”

In order for schools to be successful for students who have trauma or behavioral issues, Scurlock wants protocols to change so the first response to a problem is not to call an officer.

The 4J board has three options for voting on the EPD contract.

One—to approve the contract as proposed. Two—not approve the contract. Or three—give the 4J superintendent the authority to enter into the contract, subject to the superintendent negotiating modifications to the agreement.

If the board chooses option three, the contract modifications would be approved by 4J General Counsel.

According to board meeting documents, the superintendent recommends approving the contract with the City of Eugene. If approved, the contract will include a termination clause allowing either party to end the agreement on 30 days’ notice.

Public comments can be emailed to board@4j.lane.edu. Emails must be titled “Public Comment” in the subject line, and received before 6pm.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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