District hiring replacements for cops despite objections

School Resource Officer Tyler Edwards talks with students during a summer camp at CityView Community School.

School district leaders have continued building a new school safety team over protests from staff and activists who are bothered by the decision to seek candidates with law-enforcement backgrounds.

In July, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) solicited applications for the position of “public safety support specialist” to replace the cadre of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers who previously worked in the district.

The move was in response to the School Board’s unanimous vote to cut ties with the department because of the killing of George Floyd. The board’s decision was celebrated by scores of students and families.

The district is in the final stages of hiring 11 specialists — including one for each of its seven neighborhood high schools — at a salary range of $65,695-$85,790. The specialists will be responsible for developing school security plans, deescalating violent situations, mediating student conflicts and training staff on best practices for conflict resolution.

The initial job description said that specialists should have a degree in law enforcement or a related fi eld and at least three years of experience in security/violence prevention. (It allowed for the human resources department to exercise discretion in determining qualifications.)

Those requirements frustrated some activists and school staff, who said that the new security officers would continue the problematic aspects of the school resource officer (SRO) program, such as criminalizing minor behavior infractions. Some noted that the district is paying the specialists significantly more than education support staff whose roles already include mediating student conflicts.

“The immediate need to fill these positions feels rushed since we will be providing education through a distance-learning model,” the teachers and educational-support-professionals unions said in a statement. “We urge the district to rethink its timeline and engage more people in this process.”

Karen DeVet, who oversees the district’s security and emergency management department, said it’s important for MPS to have staff who are well-trained to handle emergencies.

She said the specialists will not be similar to SROs, noting that they won’t carry guns or handcuffs and will focus more on building relationships with students.

Washburn High School principal Emily Palmer, who is president of the district’s principals union, said while principals appreciated the individual SROs, the MPD lost the trust of students with Floyd’s killing.

She said she’s excited that the specialists will be trained in restorative justice practices — strategies for resolving conflicts between students — and that the specialists will be more involved with emergency planning than were the SROs.

District leaders say the specialist position is part of a broader effort to make schools more welcoming to kids and families of color, who have left MPS by the thousands in recent years.

Task forces in recent months have been envisioning what a welcoming environment for all students would look like. They plan on making recommendations to improve school cultures and hope to implement them districtwide in the 2023-24 school year.

Education activist Kenneth Eban, who helped students organize against SROs and has urged the district to restart the hiring process for the specialists, said he’ll be closely following those recommendations.

“It’s not just a problem of these 11 new positions,” he said. “They really need to look at all of their culture and their job descriptions … and really say, ‘What are [we] doing to perpetuate this culture of policing and surveillance of Black and brown students?’”

The district plans to officially hire the security specialists sometime this September, DeVet said.