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Spokane Public Schools approved new safety rule discouraging calls to police just prior to FBI review of district policy

The Spokane Public Schools board recently approved a new safety policy for its schools that seek to have most conflicts - including many crimes - resolved by staff rather than seeking police intervention.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools board recently approved a new safety policy for its schools that seek to have most conflicts - including many crimes - resolved by staff rather than seeking police intervention. (JESSE TINSLEY)

The Spokane Public Schools board of directors approved a new district and campus safety policy urging resolution of conflicts by school staff, rather than police, in the days before Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl informed the district’s superintendent of concerns about crime reporting.

The policy, which was unanimously adopted by the board on March 9, called for “using law enforcement only as the absolute last resort and only for incidents for which law enforcement is necessary to address a serious threat to school safety.” Board President Mike Wiser said the policy was approved “to reflect the rule of law, and what we think is best for our students.”

“It wasn’t a big change,” Wiser said, adding such an approach has been the approach of the district for several years.

The board also was presented with proposed procedures from the superintendent that prohibited staff members, except for a designated safety officer, from contacting law enforcement in many nonemergency situations. That designated safety officer could seek police intervention only in six specific instances: sex crimes, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault, use or possession of deadly weapons, suicide and homicide. If the procedure is adopted, it appears to indicate that school employees would be barred from contacting police for other crimes, such as second-degree assault, unless there was an emergency.

Under state law, second-degree assault occurs when someone “intentionally assaults another and thereby recklessly inflicts substantial bodily harm.” During first-degree assaults, an attacker has to intend “to inflict great bodily harm” and use a gun, “deadly weapon” or “any force or means likely to produce great bodily harm or death.” Both first-degree and second-degree assaults are felony crimes.

Wiser said the board, as outlined in its bylaws, did not take a formal action on the proposed procedure, which seems to forbid the school safety officer from informing police if other types of felonious crimes occur on campus. He said district staff members working on implementing that rule were still meeting and that the board could request further revision of the rule.

In a brief interview Friday, Sandra Jarrard, the district’s executive director of communications, said the procedure is not currently being used by the district. The procedure for campus safety posted on the district’s website Friday showed previous rules, which do not mention specific crimes and instead outline what uses of force are justified by school resource officers.

Shawn Jordan, the school district’s chief operations officer, declined to comment for this story when reached Monday afternoon.

Last week, Christian Parker, the FBI’s supervisory special agent in Spokane, referenced Meidl’s concerns in an email he sent to Spokane Public Schools principals. In the email, Parker said the FBI received allegations of criminal activity occurring in Spokane schools, including “assaults, sexual assaults, threats of violence and drug use.”

Parker’s letter mentions that there are concerns over whether Spokane Public Schools staff members are “being permitted to exercise their professional judgment and comply with their mandatory reporting obligations” as they determine whether to contact law enforcement about potential crimes and safety concerns.

Meidl’s letter to Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard last week identified “numerous incidents” that had led to his concern about whether school staff members were meeting their requirements under a state law establishing them as “mandatory reporters” of crime. A police department spokeswoman said Friday that Meidl was unaware of the policy change when he sent the letter, two days after the board met.

Wiser said he believed mandatory reporting is a “separate issue” to the goal of the board.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we’re using our internal resources,” he said.

In 2020, Spokane Public Schools began an overhaul on its approach to school safety. The goal was to focus on students and make sure their “social-emotional needs are met,” Jordan said in an interview in January.

While the new school safety program was still being refined, Jordan said in January that the district already had experienced benefits to the shift. Spokane police, however, criticized the change. As part of the reform, the district replaced commissioned school resource officers with campus safety specialists, who focus on safety and early intervention.

Campus safety specialists connect students with social services and other resources before problems become critical. The change shifted the district away from compliance and discipline and toward addressing root causes of a student’s inappropriate behavior, Jordan said in the earlier interview.

“We want to change the behavior through a process where we meet the needs of a student, so they meet our expectations, rather than punish them,” Jordan said in January.

Reporters Emma Epperly and Jim Allen contributed to this report.

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