Historic vote removes school resource officers from Portland schools

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 5:36 AM EDT
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In a landmark decision, Portland’s Board of Public Education voted 7-2 early Wednesday morning to remove school resource officers from the city’s high schools.

The decision came after more than six hours of discussion which included passionate and, at times, contentious public input.

Before voting on the resolution, council members rejected an amendment put forward by board member Sarah Thompson in a 6-3 vote.

Thompson’s proposal, supported by a group of parents and students, would have kept resource officers in Portland and Deering high schools for another year.

In that time, the effectiveness of resource officers would be studied and discussion of the issue would continue.

“The resolution brought forward forces the board to pick one side and reject the other which will not resolve the debate,” Thompson said.

Early in the meeting, Superintendent Xavier Botana shared his recommendation that the district end its SRO program.

Botana, who has previously expressed support for SROs, cited a desire to shift away from a culture that, as he put it, "prioritizes order over learning."

“We have been prioritizing the safety of some over the trauma of others and it is within that context I believe we need to move away from the SRO,” said Botana.

The vote comes on the heels of continued protests in Maine and across the country related to policing and social justice.

In recent weeks, hundreds have called on the board to end the district’s agreement with the Portland Police Department and instead invest in social workers and other non-law enforcement resources.

Based on an amendment recommended by Superintendent Botana, the $130,000 budgeted for the two resource officers will instead be invested in other safety measures, staff training and unmet equity needs.

Several members of the public on both sides of the issue expressed concern over a perceived lack of clarity over public safety plans in the absence of school resource officers.

The next step for members of the school board will be to develop safety plans not involving armed law enforcement stationed inside schools.