At the Dec. 1 LO school board meeting, independent equity consultants Tara Cooper and John Lenssen presented input from the LOSD School Resource Officer (SRO) listening sessions. The initiative to consider SRO presence in the district was started to align with the goals of becoming an anti-racist school district and ensuring a culture of belonging within all systems in LOSD. After further discussion, the SRO program will either be continued, discontinued or redefined.
Factors in the decision making process of the school board include the consultants’ SRO listening sessions report (containing student, staff, parent, administrator and SRO feedback and next steps or opportunities suggested by consultants), results from a district-wide survey and possibly external data around the effectiveness of SROs in improving school safety. In the past, there has been a lack of a complaint system, a formal process of evaluation of the SRO program, or any collaboration with the Lake Oswego Police Department (LOPD) to collect data on SRO interactions. Lenssen recognized that the lack of data wasn’t just an issue for Lake Oswego, but for schools nationwide.
The survey gathered the opinions, experiences and feedback from LOSD students, families and staff members over a one month period. Survey questions covered perceptions of safety and quality of interactions, understanding of the program’s purpose, suggestions for future improvements, race/ethnicity, role in LOSD and lived experiences. In total, 870 people responded, and respondent demographics appeared to be representative of the district population (with the exception of gender – 70 percent of respondents identified as female). Both looking at overall results and disaggregated results based on the role in LOSD showed evenly mixed opinions on SRO presence, according to Director of Communications Mary Kay Larson.
The consultants led private group listening sessions among like minded groups of each role in LOSD: students, staff and teachers, parents, administrators and SROs. One on one interviews were also conducted upon request, and over 100 people requested to participate – all were offered a chance to take part in sessions.
Cooper said, “One of the beauties of doing the listening session and interviews was […] it gives us the opportunity to hear the experiences and perspectives firsthand, and it also allows for John [Lenssen] and I to ask probing questions so we can get more background on the context and the experience of those that we’re talking to.”
Cooper and Lenssen observed from listening sessions that a majority of stakeholders supported continuing to have SROs in schools, while a minority did not, noting that some people also had positions that didn’t fall neatly into either category.
One clear theme that emerged from both the survey and listening sessions was the majority of staff, students, parents and community members who didn’t understand the role of SROs. Combined with the board’s considerations of the current socio-political climate emphasizing the lived experiences of marginalized communities and lack of defined metrics to measure the program’s strengths and weaknesses, the uncertainties in the decision making process became clear.
As outlined by the consultants, avenues for future growth (in the event the SRO program is continued or redefined) include using stakeholders’ needs and concerns to clearly define the role of SROs in the district and making an active effort to communicate the purpose with students, staff, teachers and community members, develop a plan for collecting data on the program, increase SRO professional development opportunities and create opportunities for dialogue to ensure that those who have concerns about the program can communicate directly with SROs and administrators.