Satara Strong leads the crowd at Central High School in a chant Monday, quoting Assata Shakur: "We have a duty to fight for our freedom. We have a duty to win." Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Joining a national movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the St. Paul Public Schools on Tuesday became the latest district to remove police officers from schools.

On a 5-1 vote, the school board decided to end contract negotiations with the St. Paul Police Department, which for years stationed officers in seven district high schools. Instead, the board will develop alternative school safety plans.

“This means better safety and less trauma for Black and brown kids,” said Miski Omar, a 2019 Central graduate, who was one of the organizers of a student campaign to get the police out of the St. Paul schools. 

The St. Paul Public Schools’ contract with the police to provide school resource officers, valued at up to $775,000, will expire June 30.

St. Paul is now the third district in the state to take police officers out of schools, after Minneapolis and Winona. Districts around the country, including Milwaukee, Denver, and Portland, Ore. have followed suit in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The demand to remove armed officers from schools is part of a national movement aimed at divesting public funds from policing and investing in community resources like education and mental health support.

The St. Paul school board’s vote came the day after a rally at Central High School. Students and alumni gave speeches, shared spoken word poetry, and performed Mexica Aztec dances in support of ending the school board’s contract with the police department. 

“This is an institution of learning, not an institution of fear,” said Mickies Kiros, who graduated from Central this year. “I guarantee we’ll feel more safe when there are no police.”

Organizers of yesterday’s rally shared a report card, grading board members on their expected votes. Two board members who were expected to vote yes, Chauntyll Allen and Jeanelle Foster, received an A. The margin of the 5-1 vote came as a surprise, Miski said. Board members Zuki Ellis, Jessica Kopp, and Steve Marchese also voted yes. John Brodrick was the lone no vote. The board has a vacancy since Marny Xiong, the 31-year-old chair of the board, died earlier this month from COVID-19.

Students began organizing to remove police from St. Paul schools in the 2015-2016 school year after a video of Central’s police officer forcefully arresting a former student for trespassing, pinning him to the ground with a knee on his back, went viral. The student cried out in pain repeatedly, saying the officer had maced him. 

Many of the students involved in the original effort have now graduated. But they came back to finish what they started. Miski organized an email campaign to school board members that generated more than a thousand emails.

After about an hour of discussion Tuesday, in which board members deliberated future safety steps and expressed appreciation and respect for the officers stationed in St. Paul high schools, the board voted decisively to end negotiations and move forward creating alternative safety plans.

Miski, an elementary education major at DePaul University in Chicago, hopes her future students will find it unbelievable that police were once in schools. She wants this experience to show students their voices can make a difference.

“You matter, your safety matters, and your concerns matter,” she said in an interview after the vote. “And you alongside other people collectively have the power to create the changes that you want to see.”

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.