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Movement to Remove Police From Schools Gains Momentum as Seattle and Oakland Boards Sever Ties With Departments

"Something has really shifted here. These are material gains."

A protester holds a sign during a Juneteenth rally and march at the Port of Oakland on June 19, 2020. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In the latest indication of the changing national conversation on law enforcement in the U.S., school boards on the West Coast on Wednesday voted to remove police officers from schools.

"Something has really shifted here," tweeted journalist Bridget Read. "These are material gains."

The Oakland, California and Seattle school boards both voted to remove officers from city schools after nearly a month of activist pressure erupting from the sustained protest movement for Black lives and against police brutality that has spread nationwide in the wake of the killing of George Floyd on May 25.

The two cities took different approaches to the issue, with Oakland voting to dismantle the school district's police department.

"This moment is a culmination of years of hard-fought advocacy, youth and family leadership, and community work," the Black Organizing Project said in a statement of the decision. 

As KPIX reported:

Citing the disproportionate arrests of Black students by Oakland's school police, as well as the district's "obligation to promote the healthy development of each one of its students" and the many alternative ways to handle discipline inside schools, the board directed the superintendent to take steps required to eliminate the department.

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From the 2015-2016 school year through 2019-2020, Black students have accounted for 73% of arrests in city schools but just 26% of enrollment, according to the resolution.

Seattle indefinitely suspended officers on campus, and nearby Edmonds joined Seattle in removing police from schools in a separate vote Wednesday. The board plans to reassess its relationship with police going forward. 

"This whole issue needs a restart," board president Zachary DeWolf told the Seattle Times.

According to the Times:

The suspension is just one part of a broader proposal to improve school climate for Black students, who last year made up nearly half of students referred to police across the district but just 14% of enrollment at Seattle Public Schools (SPS), according to district data.

The proposal also includes a provision to use unarmed rather than armed police officers for security at district events, and directs the superintendent to create a Black studies curriculum.

Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced an amendment (pdf) to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the House is expected to vote on Thursday, barring "the use of federal funds for hiring, maintaining, or training law enforcement personnel in elementary schools or secondary schools." Pressley with Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) intorduced a separate amendment to fully end qualified immunity. 

"These amendments would help us protect the dignity and humanity of all in community by removing law enforcement from K-12 schools and finally allowing for police, corrections officers, and other public officials to be held accountable for violating our legal and constitutional rights," Pressley said in a statement. "In this moment of reckoning for our nation, our legislative response must match the scale and scope of the hurt so many are feeling, and these amendments do exactly that."

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