A school district that serves students who suffer from learning disabilities, mental health issues, or trauma experienced a shooting at one of its schools on Tuesday.
But that school, along with others in the district, did not have any school resource officers (SROs) available to immediately respond to the shooting, because it turns out they were jettisoned years ago.
Intermediate School District (ISD) 287, according to a MinnPost article from June 2020, replaced its SROs with “student safety coaches” approximately four years prior. That means on Feb. 1 — the day a shooting occurred outside the South Education Center in Richfield — the district had been without SROs for several years.
The district’s website includes a page describing the role of student safety coaches. The coaches are trained in “trauma-sensitive and healing centered behavior practices,” reducing “racial trauma for students of color,” and “decriminalizing student mental health.”
“The SSC model is part of the District’s move to become a racially conscious, trauma-sensitive and healing-centered school district,” the page reads.
Nearly a year-and-a-half ago the Star Tribune wrote a piece highlighting the “success” of ISD 287’s experience without police officers. The article cited fewer arrests and an increased trust among students and safety coaches.
MinnPost added that “students of color are disproportionately impacted when it comes to the criminalization of behavior issues” and the “very presence” of police officers “can be re-traumatizing for some students.”
“We know that when you’re a setting IV special-education student — particularly if you’re a student of color, knowing you have disabilities — you are really at a high risk of going through what is termed the ‘pipeline to prison,’” Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski told MinnPost in 2020. “We wanted to do everything in our control to switch the environment to make it less of a risk factor for our students.”
The two suspects involved in the Tuesday shooting at South Education Center were students, according to Richfield police. Police Chief Jay Henthorne said it was “not random,” noting that the three victims and two suspects knew each other.
On the day of the shooting, the group had an altercation “possibly related to a previous incident” before one suspect brandished a handgun and shot the other students.
One of the victims was killed: 15-year-old Jahmari Rice, son of Black Lives Matter activist Cortez Rice. A 17-year-old was also transported to the hospital in critical condition while a 19-year-old suffered minor injuries and did not require hospitalization.
The two suspects, 18-year-old Fernando Valdez-Alvarez and 19-year-old Alfredo Rosario Solis, are currently in detention at the Hennepin County Jail.
ISD 287 serves students in 11 Minneapolis suburbs, most notably Richfield, Brooklyn Center, Wayzata, and Eden Prairie. Superintendent Lewandowski penned a statement in response to the shooting that appeared as a pop-up on the district website.
“We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victims. We are deeply saddened by this incident and will work to support the family, classmates, and staff as much as we can,” she said.
“There are no words to describe the bravery exhibited by our staff at SEC and local authorities today. No one should ever have to respond to a tragedy like this and we commit to supporting staff, students, and families’ well-being as they recover from this incident.”
But because the shooting arose from a dispute on school grounds, some are questioning if it could’ve been prevented had SROs been present.
The Center of the American Experiment reported that Superintendent Lewandowski ordered metal detectors removed prior to the 2021-22 school year. She justified the move in light of “serious concerns about … racial equity impacts.”
The Minnesota-based think tank believes the absence of SROs puts children’s safety at an unnecessary risk.
“The mission of police executives is to prevent gun violence from occurring in the first place,” wrote policy fellow Jeff Van Nest. “Police have the training, expertise, dedication, and tools necessary to protect our kids. School Resource Officers are a key component in this effort. Police leaders need to be at the table and consulted before changes are made in a school’s security posture. Anything less puts our kids’ safety at risk each day.”