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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Safety and security a key topic in Spokane School Board elections

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 15, 2019, 11:48 a.m.

Spokane School Resource Officer Ed Richardson walks out of Lewis and Clark High School on April 5, 2018. School security is one of the top issues of the 2019 races for Spokane School Board. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane School Resource Officer Ed Richardson walks out of Lewis and Clark High School on April 5, 2018. School security is one of the top issues of the 2019 races for Spokane School Board. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The contentious issue of safety in Spokane Public Schools won’t be resolved anytime soon.

The board of directors is planning to take a closer look next month at the findings of the Safe Havens report, an in-depth analysis of the district’s security practices and policies.

Board President Sue Chapin calls secuirty a “major area of focus.” However, Chapin added that the board “will take a thoughtful, transparent approach to include our community before making any decisions.”

That will take time. In the meantime, three new board members will take their seats in December. Along with incumbents Jerrall Haynes and Mike Wiser, they will set the tone for future discussion on a variety of issues.

All six remaining candidates agree that the question is more complicated than the black-and-white question of whether the district should arm its campus resource officers or contract with law enforcement for similar services.

They also acknowledge that potential enhancements are dependent on finding money to pay for them.

Here is a race-by-race look at the issue of safety and security in Spokane Public Schools:

Position 1: Nikki Lockwood vs. Katey Treloar (six-year term)

When board candidate Katey Treloar recently spent a day with community resource officer Ed Richardson, she got a few surprises.

The most pleasant was Richardson’s interaction with a South Hill boy “who clearly didn’t want to go to school,” Treloar said. “The officer got down on his level and built a relationship.”

For Treloar, the takeaway was that safety is much more than security.

For that reason, Treloar said “school climate is among the most important ways to prevent violence. Our schools implement and should continue to be supported as they use trauma-informed practices, culturally responsive concepts and increased efforts to prevent harassment, intimidation and bullying.”

On the other hand, a stop at Rogers High School revealed that while the school has a single point of entry, the building has 14 other doors without cameras and no guarantee that a given door isn’t ajar.

For that reason, Treloar supports a Safe Havens suggestion that schools be retrofitted with a vestibule, or second layer of security, “to channel visitors directory to the front office.”

Treloar also wants the district to beef up its pre-employment screening and add post-hire background checks for current employees.

On the issue of arming campus resource officers, Treloar said “I think that’s something we need to look at.”

However, Treloar added that should the district move in that direction, the public should understand that “we would not be arming janitors, we would be arming trained professionals” who also would receive 40-80 hours of additional training.”

Lockwood is opposed to arming campus resource officers or other personnel, which the Safe Havens report urged the district to consider as an option.

“The Safe Havens report also failed to convince me that arming personnel is evidence-based,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood said the district needs to maintain a positive relationship with the Spokane Police Department. “They have been responsive partners. I personally appreciate their presence during the three cyberthreats” at Lewis and Clark High School, where her daughter attended.

Lockwood said the district should work harder to foster “positive relationships” and examine whole-school safety while paying better attention to “communities of color and the disability community.”

Like Treloar, she supports measures “that create a positive school climate, address bullying and discrimination, that center on relationships and also include use of support personnel, mental health therapists, school counselors and school social workers.”

That process would be aided, Lockwood said, by committing more resources to achieving the recommended ratio of one counselor for every 250 students.

At the same time, Lockwood agrees with a Safe Havens recommendation for the district to separate its director of Campus Safety, Risk Assessment and Transportation position into at least two jobs.

Position 2: Kelli MacFarlane vs. Jenny Slagle (six-year term)

While school board candidate Jenny Slagle is opposed to arming CROs “because there have been no conclusive studies indicating that it makes schools safer,” her opponent takes the opposite stance.

More than any other school board candidate, Kelli MacFarlane would like to see an armed presence in all Spokane schools.

“I’m in favor of it,” said MacFarlane. “But not anyone – it has to be a professional, and they also need to be seriously vetted.”

MacFarlane cited a portion of the report, which stated that “the opinion of our analysts is that the SPS has a significantly increased risk of violence involving weapons and also has a significantly increased civil liability risk exposure because there are no armed officers dedicated to protect SPS schools.”

That presence also would be reassuring to students, said MacFarlane, who pointed to the relationship of resource officers at the former Eagle Peak alternative school, which was signficantly downsized and renamed to Pratt Academy at the end of the last school year.

“The rapport at Eagle Peak is amazing,” she said.

MacFarlane also would like to see additional security enhancements, including metal detectors “at all high schools and possibly middle schools” as students bring backpacks into buildings. She also would like to see security cameras “not only used but strictly monitored.”

She also advocates additional drills (lockdown, active shooter and fire). “Students need more practice and reassurance … so the familiarity of what to do and how they feel is not so scary,” MacFarlane said.

Regarding the arming of CROs, Slagle questions the lack of numbers in the Safe Havens report that criticized response times by Spokane police.

“Additional data would be helpful,” Slagle added.

Slagle has other priorities, beginning with more conversations about disproportionate discipline of African American, Native American and special needs students and others.

“We must continue to work to improve relationships and student success by deepening restorative discipline practices, culturally responsive training, and MTSS programs which now includes social-emotional learning,” Slagle said.

MTSS stands for multi-tiered system of supports and is a concept for problem solving promoted by the Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office.

Slagle said she agreed with several key points in the Safe Havens report.

They include improvements to door security; increased surveillance coverage to include facial recognition technology; nurses at every school; using paraprofessionals for increased student supervision; and updated radios “so there is inter-operability with first responders.”

“We need to use or create community partnerships to pay for or offset the costs,” Slagle said.

Slagle would make one immediate change: Update the background-check process for new employees.

“A small administrative review committee should make hiring recommendations against specific disqualifying criteria,” Slagle said. “Fingerprint-based background checks need to be implemented” in conjunction with law enforcement.

“Keeping our school community safe should outweigh short-term budget considerations,” Slagle said.

Position 4: Erin Georgen vs. Kevin Morrison (two-year unexpired term)

In one way, the Safe Havens report began with Kevin Morrison, a longtime district employee who last spring was serving on an interim basis as the director of Campus Safety, Risk Assessment and Transportation.

It was Morrison who served as the lead contact for the audit – “which gave me insights into not only recommendations that were presented, but how they might fit into the overall culture of our district and community,” said Morrison, who is now retired.

On the issue of arming CROs, Morrison wants to see a “broader community input into what an SPS solely dedicated, thoroughly vetted, well-trained, fully commissioned, armed law-enforcement response looks like.”

“If you start parking police cars and you have officers doing assessments and helping with drills … I think that would give a real sense of security,” Morrison said.

The first step, Morrison said, would be input from students, families, first responders, administrators and building staff.

Morrison also offered a long list of other safety and security measures.

Among them are redefining lockdown and evacuation procedures; expand the curriculum at all appropriate levels in internet usage and appropriate use and pitfalls of it; and continue to expand the training around MTSS with staff and community.

Georgen is opposed to arming campus resource officers, but believes that all district staff “should receive a high level of training regularly so that they can effectively and safely manage aggressive or disruptive behavior from students or parents on campus.”

At the same time, she sees “many areas” for improvement to infrastructure, such as exterior door sensors, improved line-of-sight, additional surveillance cameras and updating signage.

More than any other candidate, Georgen was cautious about how potential improvements would be funded. “All these (improvements) require ample staffing,” she said.

Schools with the highest need for infrastructure improvements should be prioritized, and consideration should be taken regarding budget constraints and cost effectiveness, Georgen added.

She applauds the district for implementing social-emotional learning, which she views as an “effective way for teachers to connect with students and to reduce suspensions and expulsions.”

“Regularly practicing response policy with de-escalation scenarios and self-defense techniques appropriate for different kinds of aggressors would help staff feel more confident responding to students who are struggling and to other potential safety threats,” Georgen said.

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