Since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis Police officer on May 25, school districts across the United States have taken decisive action to protect the wellbeing of their students by cutting ties with local police departments.
School board members in Minneapolis unanimously voted to terminate its contract with the police to provide security in schools. The superintendent in Portland, Oregon announced that the district would discontinue the regular presence of school resource officers (SROs). Portland, Maine’s School Board refused to renew an agreement with the police for the 2020-21 school year. School board members in Denver voted unanimously to phase police out of schools, making a commitment to eliminate all SROs by June 2021. Charlottesville City Schools, the city, and the police jointly announced the removal of all SROs from schools. Oakland’s school board passed the George Floyd Resolution to abolish the school district’s police force. And, the School Board in Seattle voted to suspend its contract with the police.
In St. Louis, there is a growing grassroots campaign of local students, parents, teachers, and activists working together to advocate for and demand necessary change in our schools. In St. Louis, however, unlike in these other cities and school districts, our leadership has not taken decisive action to protect the wellbeing of our young people.
At the beginning of June, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) published a petition on Change.com calling on Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS) and Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams to divest from their ties to the police and to invest in #RealStudentSafety. AFSC sent an email to Dr. Adams with a link to that petition and a request for a meeting to discuss our demands. Dr. Adams seemed initially receptive and agreed to meet with us. On June 26, AFSC and 10 other local organizations released an open letter calling on SLPS to cut all ties with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, to transform SLPS’s Office of Safety and Security, and to invest in supports that promote real student safety.
On July 7, nine community members met virtually with Dr. Adams and his team to discuss the June 26 letter and demands. At the end of our meeting, Dr. Adams suggested that our demands were not based on the actuality of what SLPS is already doing or has committed to do. We shared that our demands were based upon the public information provided by the district and asked for more transparency and clarity from Dr. Adams. When asked for a reasonable timeline for expecting that information, Dr. Adams said, “within five days.”
On July 15, AFSC sent a follow-up email to Dr. Adams, and he responded: “I did not commit to respond to your letter in 5 days.” We sent Dr. Adams the transcript of our meeting in which he clearly stated he would provide us that information in five days and asked for an updated timeline. We still have not received a response, an updated timeline, or the promised information from Dr. Adams.
During our interactions with Dr. Adams regarding the #RealStudentSafety campaign, we have experienced him as both a gatekeeper and a gaslighter. He positioned himself as gatekeeper by excluding the school board from our meeting and by removing them from every email exchange. He showed himself as a gaslighter when he stated that he did not commit to responding to our letter in five days, when according to the transcript of the meeting, that is exactly what he said.
As a coalition that advocates for and believes in transformative rather than punitive justice, we demand that Dr. Adams joins us for a facilitated restorative circle.
We will continue to advocate and agitate SLPS to protect the wellbeing of their students by cutting all ties with SLMPD and by investing in #RealStudentSafety. We will continue to do this whether or not Dr. Adams decides to work with us.
To join us in this important and necessary work, you might sign the petition, call and email Dr. Adams and the school board, and follow the #RealStudentSafety campaign and AFSC St. Louis on social media.
Sarah Nash is the Potts Intern at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) St. Louis.