PORTLAND, Maine — Months after voting to remove daily police presence from its high schools, the Portland school district is actively discussing the role that police should have in public schools.
Police, parents and public policy researchers met with school officials and educators in breakout groups last week to discuss factors that contribute to school safety and how that should inform the relationship between the school district and law enforcement.
The informal virtual meeting was to “build a vision for justice and belonging in our schools and community” after the school resource officer decision, School Board Chair Emily Figdor said, adding that officials will use feedback from the meeting “to update a set of policies involving law enforcement.”
Last summer, the Portland school board voted to remove school resource officers — police officers assigned to daily coverage in schools — from Deering and Portland high schools that used them.
The district’s policy still designates the Portland Police Department as its law enforcement unit, and coordinates with police for scenarios like drug use on school premises, possession of weapons, bullying or bomb threats.
Portland Police Chief Frank Clark, who attended the meeting, appreciated hearing school staff and parent perspectives on “the broader idea of safety and the feeling of safety in schools.”
“We did not get into the individual policies involving engagement with the police, but this event was clearly only the beginning of the conversation,” Clark said.
Another who attended was George Shaler, a senior research associate at the Cutler Institute who co-wrote a 2019 study on school resource officers in Maine. Shaler said that his breakout group “looked at school safety comprehensively” and hoped the conversations lead to a “greater provision of behavioral and mental health services” for students.
The discussions are ongoing, and the School Board’s policy committee reviewed the data during a Tuesday meeting to determine next steps for the revision of policies.