Olympia school board candidates split on bringing police back to campuses. Here’s what they said

Olympia Superintendent Patrick Murphy and School Board President Darcy Huffman announced earlier this week their intent to ask the board to reinstate School Resource Officers (SROs) on campuses after two students were arrested for carrying weapons at Capital High School in the first week of the school year.

The board is scheduled to vote on a policy addressing the matter at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.

The Olympian reached out to those who are running in the Nov. 7 General Election for a seat on the board, including those who currently serve, for their opinion on the matter.

District 1: Maria Flores and Talauna Reed

Maria Flores, who currently serves in the District 1 position, was unavailable for comment before Thursday’s board meeting.

Talauna Reed, who currently serves in the District 2 position, said she doesn’t support going straight to re-implementing SROs into Olympia schools. She said her first thought wasn’t to have police officers back at schools, but to figure out why students felt they needed to bring guns to school in the first place.

“It’s a matter of figuring out what happened in the first place, and how did that student get access to the weapon,” Reed said. “We need to figure out some other things and see how we can intervene in other ways, because, though we got the best possible outcome, having an armed police officer will not ensure that weapons won’t be brought to school.”

Reed said she also would have concerns about SROs not ensuring the safety of all students of all backgrounds, and that de-escalation measures would need to be top priority.

Along with that, she said the district itself has a lot of work to do to revise outdated policies she said harm students of color.

“We don’t even have an anti-racist policy,” she said. “We don’t have policies just for day to day, that are current and up-to-date.”

Reed suggested having Crisis Response teams who are trained to work with youth and are versed in de-escalation tactics could be the answer. She said kids don’t want to go to a school where there’s an armed police officer at nearly every corner, where they have to pass through metal detectors in the morning.

Reed said she had planned to attend listening sessions at Capital High School this week for students and staff, but she was told that plans were never formalized.

District 2: Frank Durocher and Jess Tourtellotte-Palumbo

Frank Durocher said he’s optimistic about the decisions to come, and that it’s unfortunate there were two close calls in Olympia schools.

“I’m really hoping that the board is going to do the right thing and work swiftly to reinstate the SRO program back to its pre-pandemic old capacity as armed, uniformed law enforcement inside our schools, just like it was before,” Durocher said.

He said the program is actually one of the pillars of his campaign, and that he’d love to see the board address one of his main issues before he has a chance to be at the table.

Durocher said he imagines the students who brought the weapons to school didn’t feel safe, so they felt it was necessary to take matters into their own hands. He said if the district had a safe, trusted presence on its campuses, it would keep these situations from happening.

“The safety of our staff and our students is paramount in situations like these,” he said. “Obviously, response times will be better. Not having to actually reach out to OPD to get them to rush over in the event that there is a dire situation that needs to be addressed.”

Durocher said he thinks public perception of the program is going to be important, and that having more officers in the public eye could help build a more healthy relationship with the police department.

Meanwhile, Jess Tourtellotte-Palumbo said she’s grateful for the quick response and planning by the school staff and educators in both instances from the past week.

“The police did a great job removing the threat without escalating, however, I do not believe adding the Student Resource Officer program into schools is the answer,” she said. “It’s been shown that SRO presence increases punitive responses to student interactions, particularly towards students from minority groups.”

She said instead, the district should focus its efforts and resources on community safety and conflict resolution training, as well as ensuring there’s continued support for staff and clear communication during emergency situations like these.

District 4: Hilary Seidel and Leslie Van Leishout

Hilary Seidel, who currently serves on the board, said she’s been focusing her time before this week’s board meeting on organizing listening sessions with the Capital High community.

She said as a parent of a current CHS student, it’s been a hard week. She’s grateful to the community members who spoke up, and to staff and OPD for their response. As a board member, she said her priority has always been to listen to students and staff, and to follow the research to keep Olympia’s schools safe.

“What I’ve heard so far directly from students is that they are thinking about how safety looks different for different people, and they are looking at the extensive research showing that schools with traditional school resource officers (paid armed police) are not safer,” Seidel said.

Despite disagreeing with reinstating SROs, she said she plans to support the policy the superintendent and board president announced earlier this week, formalizing a relationship with the Olympia Police Department.

“If the board adopts this new policy, I hope OPD and Superintendent Murphy can work together to think creatively about a partnership agreement that re-imagines public safety in our schools,” Seidel said.

Van Leishout said she supports SROs coming back to schools, but agrees there needs to be some changes.

“Staff and students must feel safe in schools. Without that, no learning can occur,” she said. “The most important thing we can do to make that happen is create a climate of belonging and relationship for all.”

Van Leishout said she understands some students, particularly students of color and those in the LGBTQIA+ community, have had traumatic interactions with police. She said the district needs to listen to their voices to gain a better understanding of how the SRO program can work for all students.

“SROs are part of the answer, but there is so much more that needs to be done to help all families feel safe bringing their students to school,” she said.

Gun incidents prompt Olympia School District to bring police back to campuses

UPDATE: Capital High recovers Monday after second lockout over weapon at school

Capital High School is locked out Wednesday morning after police find student with gun