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Minneapolis Board Of Education Chair On Vote To Cut Ties With Police Department


Minneapolis police officers will no longer have a place in Minneapolis schools. The city's Board of Education has voted to terminate its contract with the police department. They had an arrangement where cops provided security, but for years, some students and parents have said that the school resource officers treat students of color differently. Kim Ellison is chair of the Minneapolis Board of Education. Good morning, Miss Ellison.

KIM ELLISON: Good morning.

KING: This school board voted unanimously to do this a week after a black man, George Floyd, was killed by a white police officer. Is that why you made this move?

ELLISON: Well, that is part of why we made this move. The contract was expiring this year anyway in August. We would've had this discussion this summer. But we were also discussing our budget, and the budget was for next school year. The budget was first introduced the day after George Floyd was murdered. And in our budget is a line item for our school resource officers. And that's when directors first brought up the concern about moving forward with that contract.

KING: What message do you want this to send to your community, to students and to parents?

ELLISON: I want the students and parents to know that we are listening to them and that we are - it's an issue of equity for us. And our students of color are treated differently in our schools, and that's no longer acceptable to us.

KING: Why was it acceptable before?

ELLISON: Yes, that's a great question. We've had staff members and other parents, families that say, you know, we need to keep families safe. There have been a number of school shootings, as you are aware. And there was also a concern of we need a police officer at the school in case someone comes from outside to harm our children. And so, you know, it's a lot of things we need to balance and make - when we make these decisions.

But this year, the board decided to act on their values and decide that the Minneapolis Police Department no longer acts as if they value life as we do. And so we made that decision. And it's no reflection on our school resource officers who have stepped forward and worked in our schools and built great relationships with students and staff over the years.

KING: Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Erick Fors said part of the point of this program was not just safety, but it was to build trust between police and children. That actually does sound like a fair objective. Was it just not working?

ELLISON: It was working. It wasn't working perfectly. Students of color were still treated differently within our schools by school resource officers. And we've just gotten to the point - we spent a lot of money to hire police officers to work in the school, and it just got to a point where we can't carry that message for officers. The police department can do that in the streets as well.

KING: OK. At a board meeting yesterday, there was some dissent. One student told the board without the officers, quote, "nobody's going to feel safe at school," unquote. Now, that is a very grim statement on its face, the idea that you need police on a school campus, but, OK. What is the plan if you don't have police officers there to keep the kids safe?

ELLISON: Well, like I said, this contract comes up for renewal every three years. And I know three years ago and six years ago, the school board directors have asked staff, what else can we do other than school resource officers, and plans have been developed. I know three years ago, we had a plan that cost significantly more than the price that we paid for school resource officers, so we decided just to renew the contract. So we do have plans.

We also recently passed in Minneapolis what we call our Comprehensive District Design, which included a cultural and climate framework for schools where they're looking at making students and families feel more welcome in our schools. And we've talked about maybe this committee also helping develop a plan of what schools look like without school resource officers in them.

KING: But if a parent comes to you and says, OK, you're taking the police out of schools. Let's say there is - God forbid - a school shooting. What is your plan on that day to keep my kid safe? It sounds like you've got to have something right now, right? What is it?

ELLISON: Yes, we have given the superintendent - there will be a plan. And we've given the superintendent until our August meeting date to present the plan. And that's one reason why we decided to do this now, so that the superintendent would have three months instead of two weeks to come up with an alternative plan if we do not have school resource officers in our schools.

KING: Kim Ellison is chair of the Minneapolis Board of Education. Miss Ellison, thank you for your time.

ELLISON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.