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Student news of Olympia High School

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Student news of Olympia High School

The Olympus

School Resource Officers: oppressive or obligatory?

Multiple gun scares at Capital High School have district representatives rapidly responding to parent and staff shock.
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Former+School+Resource+Officer+Doug+Curtright+shakes+hands+with+an+OHS+student.+Photo+courtesy+of+Keep+a+School+Resource+Officer+at+OHS+on+Facebook.
Former School Resource Officer Doug Curtright shakes hands with an OHS student. Photo courtesy of “Keep a School Resource Officer at OHS” on Facebook.

Two lockdowns in four days. Two weapons discovered and confiscated – both of them loaded firearms. One fifteen-year-old arrested. Although no one has been injured, these incidents at Capital High School left community members scared and confused. Their fear is warranted, given the 306 U.S. school shootings in 2023 alone. 

Shortly after administrators and security reported the firearm discovered, Capital High School went into lockdown as police officers arrived. Photo courtesy of King 5 News.

The Olympia School District responded by passing a law reinstating Student Resource Officers. An SRO is a sworn law-enforcement officer with arrest powers, and nearly all are armed. 

However, SROs are theoretically different from police officers. They are trained on how to interact with youth and have three roles: law enforcement, informal mentoring and counseling, and teaching. 

On September 14, the OSD Board approved the decision to adopt Policy 4311–School Safety and Security Services Program – which will reinstate SROs on school campuses in partnership with the Olympia Police Department. 

Information about how SROs will be chosen and when they will be on campus has not been shared, which is surprising due to the influence of this decision. Many wonder if bringing SROs back is simply a quick band-aid response after recent incidents at CHS. 

OSD Director Talauna Reed emphasized, “It’s a matter of figuring out what happened in the first place, and how that student got access to the weapon. We need to see how we can intervene in other ways … having an armed police officer will not ensure that weapons won’t be brought to school.”

Issues regarding community input have also arisen. OHS Foods and Nutrition teacher, Crystal Pate, felt that the decision was rushed and made without properly acknowledging staff or student voices. 

Pate recalled a Board member speaking with the OHS Equity Action Team after school. The problem? The Board voted to pass the policy later the same evening, giving students and staff little time to prepare a speech or presentation.

“It felt like a very foregone conclusion that it would be passed. That day was the first time most of us were hearing about it at all,” Pate reflected. 

Students, who will no doubt be the most affected, had little say other than a school-wide forum and an online survey – after the decision was formally made. OSD’s 2023 Fall School Safety Survey revealed that 40.3% of students, 68.9% of staff, and 65.7% of families were in favor of SROs.

OHS parents and staff in support of reinstating SROs mentioned that they would feel an increased sense of safety. According to the SRO forum, they believe an SRO could serve “as a resource for the community and a caring adult to connect with students.” 

“I think it’s probably a good idea [to have officers in schools] because it just seems like quite a bit of some dangerous stuff happening,” Joseph Young, CHS freshman expressed.

Ja’Wanne Brown, CHS Vice Principal made a similar remark: “When you have the right person in that place, it will be very effective and help the school community. It will help guide the school.”

Other community members are against reinstating SROs.

At a recent panel held by OHS club STAND (Students Advocating for Nonviolence and Diversity) in partnership with Feminism Club, students cited police officers’ “racist history, intimidation tactics, criminalization of students, and lack of accountability” as reasons to keep SROs out of schools.

An Instagram account (@nocopsinosd) has been created to protest against SROs as well. 

Opinions are divided. However, what those two groups have in common is a lack of information and clarity from the Olympia School Board. 

School Board Student Representative Christine Zhang explained that the Board has started “recruitment for a school safety committee of students, staff, and community members to make recommendations, but a lot of it is still up in the air right now.” 

The history behind SRO programs begins after the Columbine shooting in 1999. The Washington Post cites that over 357,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since then. 

According to a study done by the University at Albany and the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit that uses research to influence public policies, in 2014 and 2018, SROS did “effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but did not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents.” 

OHS is no stranger to SROs, with staff citing the experiences as positive and negative. The first experience was described as “wonderful” by OHS Spanish teacher Mary McNamara. McNamara said the SRO was a “caring adult who positively connected with students.”

But between a uniformed officer holding a gun and an unarmed student carrying a backpack, what kind of relationship can be formed?

Pate shared a similar sentiment: “I just question how an authentic relationship can be fostered between two individuals when one of them is carrying a loaded weapon and wearing a uniform intended to intimidate others.” Pate would feel more comfortable with a modified uniform or the use of a different weapon, like a stun gun. 

As the Board continues with its SRO decision, many questions remain. Community members wonder what steps the hiring process will include and how administrators will prevent bad experiences from happening. And most importantly, if SROs will make a meaningful difference regarding gun violence.

If the Board doesn’t tell, time will. 

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About the Contributor
Victoria Liu, Editor-in-Chief
Victoria Liu is a co-editor for The Olympus and creative nonfiction editor for Ursa Literary Magazine. She enjoys binge-watching TV shows, online shopping… and, of course, writing. 

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  • K

    keith croninNov 29, 2023 at 11:28 am

    ~40% of students? wow, it’s almost like OSD should listen to the kids, the people the officers have power over… say no to SROs.

    Reply