The Lawrence school board met Monday at district offices. Here are the items from our preview and what happened with them, plus some additional notes.
• The board heard a report on survey data from students, staff and families regarding school resource officers, known as SROs.
↪ Context: During the summer of 2020, Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said in the presentation, some community members asked the board to consider removing SROs from district schools. The Equity Advisory Council and Parents of Color groups were then tasked with examining the issue. They determined additional surveys should be done and distributed more widely than the previous survey that had been completed in early 2020.
Earlier this month, the district used the ThoughtExchange information gathering app to collect information regarding SROs. The report shows that 771 stakeholders participated and contributed 786 thoughts and more than 20,000 ratings, which assign a value to other respondent’s comments. Review the slide presentation from the agenda packet here.
The report provided figures about feelings, interactions and experiences with SROs by race/ethnicity, gender and stakeholder role. Four SROs currently split their time among the district’s two high schools and four middle schools in a district partnership with the city of Lawrence and the Lawrence Police Department. The school district, at this point, does not provide any financial support for the SROs’ salaries, Stubblefield said.
Overall, few respondents said they had experienced negative past interactions with SROs. Forty-six people reported negative or very negative past interactions with SROs.
The graphic below shows the racial breakdown of the 617 respondents who answered the question, “How would you describe your past interaction(s)/experience(s) with School Resource Officers (SROs)?”.
Key thoughts listed in the survey report include the need for SROs to build relationships with students, the importance of teacher safety with resources and support from administration, and the need for strong crisis intervention training. Current SROs have attended the district’s Beyond Diversity training.
Previous survey results from 2020 and distributed to more than 1,000 high school students and 133 staff members were also included in the report. In that survey, 84% of staff and 57% of students who responded either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt “safer with a school resource officer in the building.”
Comments from students in focus groups with Superintendent Anthony Lewis and Director of Secondary Schools Rick Henry from January 2020 showed mixed feelings about SROs with one student saying, “I don’t feel safe with SROs in the building. Feels riskier for students of color — profiling can happen.”
Another student said, “At first, I did not feel safer because I felt targeted. After I got to know our SRO and understood her role, I felt safer and that I wasn’t being targeted.”
Zach Conrad, executive director of research, evaluation and accountability, told the board students also indicated they wanted more opportunities to connect with SROs.
Also in the report were highlights of recent recommendations from the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice regarding SROs. Lewis serves on the commission and Douglas County Commissioner Shannon Portillo co-chairs the panel, which studies issues of racial equity and justice in Kansas.
Lewis cited the killing of George Floyd Jr. in May 2020 as a reason Gov. Laura Kelly assembled the commission in June 2020.
Board president Kelly Jones said her professional experience as a social worker working with transitional age youth within the criminal justice system helped inform her positions on SROs. “For the people I worked with and served, their interactions with SROs in a college town that considered itself quite progressive in the Midwest resulted in long-term interactions with the criminal justice system that started in their high schools. I am uncomfortable with the SRO program, to start, based on that experience.”
Jones noted the district’s addition of social workers and mental health support workers in schools isn’t enough to handle the onslaught of trauma coming from the COVID-19 pandemic moving into the next school year. Jones asked about co-responder models in the district. Typically, co-responder models involve a specially trained law enforcement officer and a mental health crisis worker who work together to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis. Jones asked specifically how the district supports students during their interaction with SROs who might be conducting a criminal investigation.
Stubblefield said when a student interacts with an SRO in that type of situation a parent or guardian would be contacted. Whether a social worker, counselor or administrator is present could vary, depending on the circumstances.
Jones told the board, “I do think that if we continue to have SROs, there’s value in having someone in the room if there’s a criminal investigation, who has a mental health background and who has an understanding of the implications for that student if they’re not cooperating, if they are not able to participate in a way that protects them, and somebody that understands their rights while we’re waiting for the parent to come.”
“They’re not mental health professionals, even if they’re the most compassionate people in the world, so having someone in the room that has that background might be helpful and might protect our students.”
Board member Paula Smith said she doesn’t want to downplay the negative experiences and interactions with students and families.
“I also want to make sure we are elevating and highlighting those when we are thinking through those recommendations and those changes that it’s not downplayed when we are going through this.”
Stubblefield outlined the next steps for the SRO program. Stubblefield said the district will continue to develop procedures for training building staff on working with SROs and emphasizing SRO roles to district staff.
Lewis told Jones that in his interactions with the LPD he will make sure the board’s feelings are shared.
“I’m fully committed to making sure that we are utilizing our SROs in an effective manner,” Lewis said.
• The board approved the district’s board policy manual, which takes effect immediately and changes selection procedures for board leadership.
↪ Context: After deferring a vote on its approval at the May 10 meeting, the board approved the manual, which can be found here. During the meeting on May 10, board members Carole Cadue-Blackwood and Melissa Johnson expressed concerns about changing the process of selecting board leadership.
Beginning in July 2022, the board will elect its vice president by nomination and majority vote of the board. In July 2023, the board will choose both the president and vice president using the new process. This system replaces the previous practice of filling the president’s position with the candidate who won the most votes from the public in the general election.
The manual also sets term limits on board officers selected at the annual July organizational meetings. Elected officers will serve for a one-year term and may serve no more than two consecutive terms in their position.
Jones said the board would try to honor the community’s tradition of elevating the candidate with the most votes in the general election to an officer position. To do that she suggested adding a paragraph that states board members should consider a candidate’s ability to fulfill the duties of an officer, plus the support the candidate received from voters in the most recent election.
“As this factor is an indicator of the community’s support of that candidate as a leader,” Jones said. “What we’re hoping will happen is in the case where the person receiving the most votes is not in the position to be president, that we now have this new policy that would allow us a way to select the next leader, that follows the board manual.”
The new policy could also open up the possibility, Jones said, that a person could serve more than one consecutive year as board president. Because of the learning curve that comes with the president position, board members have said it can take up to a year to learn the job duties. It also allows some flexibility, Jones said, when the person with the most votes might not be the best fit for an officer position at the moment.
“I was in favor as it was written two weeks ago, and I like this addition because I like the flexibility that it adds. I like that it gives more weight to the vote … ” board member GR Gordon-Ross said. “In the event that that person who has the most votes isn’t in the position (to fulfill a leadership position), it then gives us a framework to use.”
Cadue-Blackwood said she still wasn’t comfortable with the revision.
The governance and operating procedures guide also provides direction about the roles and responsibilities of the board and superintendent team, as well as board procedures in ethics, communications, professional development, performance evaluations, and board assignments, structure and meetings.
Jones said the board could continue to improve it, possibly doing “a deeper dive” on the manual during the upcoming board retreat.
↪️ Passed, 5-2. Cadue-Blackwood and Johnson voted no.
• The board approved the appointment of LHS Interim Principal Cynthia Johnson as executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging. In an update to the personnel recommendations on the consent agenda, Johnson’s appointment will begin July 1. A news release Monday afternoon said the new position is a reorganization of administrative duties following the resignation of Stubblefield, who is leaving the district for the superintendent job at Kansas City Kansas Public Schools.
The board also approved the appointment of Kady Carson as assistant principal and athletic director at Billy Mills Middle School. She will replace Carissa Miles, who will begin the 2021-2022 school year as principal of Southwest Middle School.
↪️ Passed, 7-0 on consent agenda.
• The board received written reports for review.
↪ Context: The agenda packet included three written reports to the board. At the April 26 meeting, Lewis said the administration would like to present information via written reports in lieu of full presentations when appropriate. Here is information about the reports and links to them:
- Air Validation and HVAC Systems Efficiency Report: At its Dec. 14, 2020, meeting, the board approved an agreement with Johnson Controls to prepare an Air Validation and HVAC Systems Efficiency Report in preparation for a return to in-person learning. The study was conducted from January through March with Doyle Field Services. The report was presented to staff on April 14. The information from the study is categorized by repairs completed, repairs requiring evaluation of the HVAC system by a mechanical engineer, and repairs requiring a contractor. The reports say mechanical engineer evaluations are being aligned with potential grants from the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER.
- Technology Report: The report shares the roles and responsibilities of the department and a breakdown of department systems.
- Communications Report: The report gives an overview of the department’s 2020-2021 communications efforts.
For the first time, the board met in its new and larger boardroom. A news release from the district said public attendance was welcome but could be limited due to COVID-19 safety measures. Temperature checks, face masks and social distancing were required.
Special recognitions were given to:
- The LHS girls swimming and diving team, which finished third in the Class 6A state meet last week and second at the Sunflower Meet earlier in the season. The team grade point average is 3.83.
- Sophomore Wendo Kimori from Free State High School as the student board member.
- The district’s information technology department for its work during a school year that included distance, hybrid and in-person learning.
- LHS senior Connor Jones, who won first place at Olathe Northwest High School’s eMagine Media Fest with his animated story “The Little Hitchhiker.”
- LHS students who earned awards in the arts. See the list of winners below.
Outdoor graduation ceremonies are scheduled for Lawrence High School at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 25 and for Free State High School at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 26. KU’s Allen Fieldhouse will serve as a backup site for both in the event of rain. Location decisions will be announced by noon the day of the event.
The board met in three back-to-back executive sessions (meaning in private) to discuss negotiations for a fair and equitable contract, potential litigation and personnel matters. No action followed any of the sessions.
The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, June 14. Find the board meeting agenda and related documents here. Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26.
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