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Rochester School Board hears plan on path forward for school resource officers

The proposal named two different outcomes: implementing the current memorandum of understanding with the Rochester Police Department and developing "a long-term strategy for keeping the students and staff of Rochester Public Schools safe" that "may or may not include the presence of SROs in RPS."

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Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel listens during public comments during a School Board meeting on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, at the Edison Administration Building in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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After a long line of complex and protracted conversations about school resource officers, the Rochester School Board had a relatively streamlined update Tuesday night.

During the meeting, Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel provided three strategies the district could implement in regard to school safety, as well as a couple of possible outcomes.

"As I thought about the issue of school resource officers in our schools, which of course is a complex issue not just in Rochester but around the country, it seemed to me that there were a few pieces that ran through your feedback," Pekel said about the board's previous comments on the topic.

The first, he said, is wanting to know how the current system is working in Rochester Public Schools. Second is what research says about the impact of officers in schools and other alternative programs. The third, he said, would be to implement the system in Rochester with what the district knows from research.

Pekel described his proposal as an "approach to really find some level of deep clarity and consensus to this issue."

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The school district has a history of using school resource officers. That practice, however, has come under debate in recent years. The school board re-approved its contract with the Rochester Police Department, but subsequently added a memorandum of understanding to help specify the relationship between the police department and the school district.

"It's too early to really, I think, draw major conclusions from that," Pekel said about the memorandum.

The three strategies Pekel presented Tuesday night included:

  • Successfully implement the memorandum of understanding between the district and police department.
  • Synthesize research and best practices on school resource officers and alternative approaches to school safety.
  • Co-design a long-term school safety strategy that may or may not include the use of officers in the schools.

"The focus of this co-design process would not be narrowly focused on school resource officers; it would be focused on school safety and belonging," Pekel said. "And so school resource officers would certainly be something that the process would consider. But it would be broader."
The strategies, however, are meant to lead to one of a couple possible outcomes. Those, according to Pekel's proposal include:

  • "Successfully implement the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Rochester Public Schools (RPS) and the Rochester Police Department (RPD) regarding School Resource Officers (SROs)"
  • "Develop a long-term strategy for keeping the students and staff of Rochester Public Schools safe while they are in school or participating in other activities sponsored by the school district. This strategy may or may not include the presence of SROs in RPS."

Executive Director of Elementary and Secondary Education Jacque Peterson touched on a number of initiatives the district is undertaking to help curb the violence and disruption that has been reported in the schools.
She described them as "seven really great strategies that are going to make a huge difference in our buildings."

SRO Strategy Summary by inforumdocs on Scribd

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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