Portland, OR – A group of Portland Public Schools students staged a walkout on Wednesday to protest a proposed increase in the number of school resource officers (SROs) throughout the district.
“We as PPS students are extremely disappointed in the school board’s actions and believe that police do not have a place in our schools,” Jefferson High School senior Sophia Lucas said during the 9 a.m. gathering outside Portland City Hall.
Despite extensive media coverage leading up to the demonstration, the turnout was lackluster – only about 18 students and adults actually showed up, KATU reported.
News footage showed an adult woman leading the students in their protest chant.
“No SROs PDX!” they yelled repeatedly, while holding signs that read, “COPS OUT OF SCHOOLS!”
Lucas said the protest was intended to “raise the brows” of Portland Public School Board members, who approved a plan in December to increase the number of days SROs will be working in the schools, KATU reported.
Under the new agreement, the public school system would share the cost of having SROs in schools Monday through Friday.
Portland city commissioners will make the final decision regarding whether or not the agreement will be enacted, and some students want them to know they want officers ousted from the school altogether.
“Stationing police officers in schools will further contribute to an environment of fear and distrust,” Lucas said during the demonstration, according to KATU.
She alleged that the officers’ presence creates unsafe school environments, and contributes to discrimination.
The students also created a YouTube account, “No SROs PDX,” to further explain why they do not want police officers to protect their schools.
“Personally, my community doesn’t feel safe having police, armed police, in our schools,” Brisa Ruiz said in a new video on Wednesday. “School is somewhere where we’re supposed to feel safe, and it’s a place where we’re just supposed to learn.”
But people from the community failed to show up in support.
Lucas said that, due to a large number of “immigrant” families in the area, many students prefer to not have police present because “you don’t want to stir up trouble.”
“I think that the younger generation needs to see people like them stand up,” she continued. “So this movement, for me, is setting that example for my sisters.”
Ruiz equated police with violence, and said that that their presence poses a threat to students’ lives.
“We have rights, and our right is to survive in school and learn without violence and without police,” she said.
Sarah Steele alleged that having SROs in a school where minority students are the majority creates the belief that police are “needed” in schools with more minority students.
Talia Richley, who is white, said that seeing SROs is “really triggering” for many of her peers who are “black people and people of color.”
Another student argued that having guns in schools is so scary that it is hard to focus on classroom tasks.
“I mean, how would you feel being in a classroom with an officer with a gun?” Micah Mizushima said. “Like, ‘I’m trying to do a math test here.’”
Richley claims that teachers have told her they don’t want police in the schools, either.
For the past 20 years, the school district has not provided any funding to have SROs in the schools, KATU reported.
If the agreement is approved by the commissioners, the district will have to help pay for the increased number of days the officers will be on hand.
Mayah Garcia-Harper said that money could be better used elsewhere.
“I feel like it’s taking away funding from things that could actually increase a safe environment like psychologists and therapists,” Garcia-Harper said in the video. “We have voices and we demand to be heard.”
“We will not be silenced,” she added.
It was unclear what role the mental health treatment providers might play in the event of an active shooter situation.
The students did not offer any alternative solutions to help protect their schools.