Minneapolis public schools are terminating their contract with the city’s police department following the death of George Floyd.
The city’s public school board unanimously approved a resolution on Tuesday night that will end the district’s contract with the Minneapolis police department to use officers to provide school security. The Minneapolis superintendent said he would begin work on an alternative plan to keep the district’s more than 35,000 students safe in the coming school year.
“We cannot continue to be in partnership with an organization that has the culture of violence and racism that the Minneapolis police department has historically demonstrated,” Nelson Inz, one of the school board members, said. “We have to stand in solidarity with our black students.”
While the vote does not bring justice for Floyd, “it will show that meaningful change is possible,” Nathaniel Genene, the school board’s student representative, said.
Genene said an online survey of Minneapolis students had received more than 1,500 responses, and about 90% of them supported terminating the district’s contract with the police.
Public schools “cannot partner with organizations that do not see the humanity in our students”, Minneapolis school board member Josh Pauly, who helped draft the resolution, wrote on Twitter last week.
The school district “cannot align itself with [the Minneapolis police department] and claim to fight institutional racism”, Pauly added.
The Minneapolis teachers union had endorsed the change, calling for the city’s schools to “cut all financial ties” with the police department, and to invest in additional mental health support for students instead.
“The officers of the Minneapolis police department have become symbols of fear to the children those officers were sworn to serve and protect,” two local union officials said in a statement last week.
During the school board meeting, several members praised the work of individual police officers who had served in Minneapolis public schools as “school resource officers” and said at least a few of the officers did have deep, meaningful community relationships that would be missed.
But Pauly, the school board member, told the Guardian in advance of the vote that he had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from students in Minneapolis who support ending the school district’s relationship with the police department.
Other school board members across the country – including from districts in Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, New York, and Illinois – have also reached out privately for support in crafting similar resolutions, he said.
A vote to end Minneapolis schools’ contract with the police department is a major victory for activists across the country who have been working to remove all police from schools.
“It’s a very specific group of people who feel safe with police, but most black and brown children do not feel safe with police in schools,” said Jackie Byers, the executive director of the Black Organizing Project, which has been working since 2011 to end the use of police officers in Oakland public schools, including asking teachers and administrators to pledge to not call the police on their students.
School districts “need to see someone step forward”, Byers said. “Folks are afraid of being the first district to do something.”
More than 70% of public secondary schools and 30% of primary schools in the United States have sworn law enforcement officers who routinely carry firearms, according to 2015-2016 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
“In San Francisco, we’ve had 10-year-olds that have had the police called on them. Kindergarteners. Fifth-graders,” said Neva Walker, the executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a non-profit group that focuses on creating more equitable public schools.
“We have to get past the idea that police are the means to protect our children, especially for black and brown students,” she said.
For decades, school shootings, typically carried out by young white men, have prompted the American government to invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in putting armed law enforcement officers inside schools.
But studies have shown that more students enter the criminal justice system when more police officers are in schools, sparking concern from some advocates that the attempt to protect American children from mass shootings had unintentionally fueled a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately harms students of color.
Breaking that cycle has not been easy. But one “critically important” step forward, Byers said, had already come from the University of Minnesota, which announced “immediate changes” in its relationship with the Minneapolis police department in the wake of widespread protests over Floyd’s death.
The university president, Joan Gabel, said in a letter last week that the university would no longer work with the police department to provide security for football games, concerts and other large events, and that it would limit its cooperation with the police to joint patrols and investigations “that directly enhance the safety of our community”.
The university’s relationship with other police departments in other cities where it has campuses will remain unchanged, a spokesman said.
The Minneapolis police department did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.