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‘Who Gets to Feel Safe?’: Eugene 4J School Board to Modify EPD Contract

Elizabeth Gabriel

On Wednesday, the Eugene 4J school board voted to renew their contract with the Eugene Police Department for six more months.

The vote—which was 6-1—passed with school board member Jim Torrey opposed.

From ‘Black Lives Matter’ to ‘Defund the Police’

During the last school board meeting for the 2019-2020 school year, the board dedicated over an hour and a half of conversation to questions posed by school board member Martina Shabram.

“Schools should be places where students can fully immerse themselves in the process of intellectual growth," said  Shabram. "And that requires feeling safe and supported. So I think the question we need to ask is, ‘Who gets to feel safe now in the system as it exists?’ National data, which has been shared with the public and with the board in a variety of ways, has demonstrated that school policing can lead to some negative consequences.”

The vote comes after national Black Lives Matter protests ignited a movement to defund the police—including in schools.

Over the past few days, many local Black Lives Matter protesters have said they support the removal of school resource officers (SROs). Local protesters have also cited a conflict of interest between 4J Safety Officer Kari Skinner and her husband, EPD Chief Chris Skinner.

The program would cost $475,956 to fund four officers and 40% of a sergeant’s salary for the entire 2020-2021 fiscal year (not including overtime, or costs for materials and supplies). Many protesters have said this money should fund teachers and counselors. 

But some teachers and parents have also voiced support for keeping SROs to help with safety and security concerns.

The Vote  

The 4J board had 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.

The first motion, made by school board member Mary Walston, stated if the board approved option three, the contract would be extended through December 31. The school board would then work with students, teachers, parents, and community members of color to create a modified safety model before the contract expires.

An amendment to Walston’s motion was also included by Shabram, which proposed the board remove “school resource officers stationed in the schools” as they are currently employed. The amendment passed with Walston and Torrey opposed to the amendment.

The proposed contract was already adapted from their previous contract with EPD.

According to interim superintendent Cydney Vandercar, the modifications include changing the contract from five years to one year, reducing the district’s payment of SROs when school buildings are closed, and not allow officers to have access to a student’s personal information.

During the meeting, the board approved an amendment for cancelling the contract. The agreement now includes a termination clause allowing either party to end the agreement on 30 days’ notice.

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