The Kent School Board voted 3-2 to approve a contract for the return of a King County Sheriff’s Office deputy to serve as a school resource officer at Kentlake High and two elementary schools as well as adding two middle schools to his or her duties.
The Sheriff’s Office covers the Kent School District schools in unincorporated King County. The board in August voted 3-2 to return Kent Police officers to Kent-Meridian and Kentridge high schools as well as Mill Creek and Meridian middle schools, which are in the city of Kent.
Board directors Michele Bettinger and Joe Bento opposed the contract with the Sheriff’s Office at the Sept. 8 meeting for the same reason they were against the contract with Kent Police.
“We haven’t had public meetings for community or student involvement and we said we would,” Bento said prior to his no vote.
Bettinger voiced the same opinion.
“We promised meetings before any vote,” Bettinger said. “We didn’t have those meetings. We need to keep our promises to the community.”
Board President Denise Daniels and directors Maya Vengadasalam and Leslie Hamada voted to approve the contract with the Sheriff’s Office, just as they did with Kent Police. Hamada said she supported the contract but agreed the board should have heard from residents. The district is trying to organize community meetings about the school resource officers to be held sometime in October.
“It’d be much better for the public if we had the educational piece before (the vote),” Hamada said. “I appreciate we are looking at October but I think the public would’ve been more happy if we did it before.”
The district will pay $62,509 in 2021 and $88,528 in 2022 to the Sheriff’s Office to provide one deputy to patrol the five schools. The contract runs from August 2021 through July 31, 2022.
The officer will split time among Kentlake, Grass Lake and Sawyer Woods elementary schools and Meeker and Northwood middle schools. The two middle schools were added this year to have a deputy spend time at the campuses.
The specific services to be provided include an officer presence on campus; staff training on topics such as gangs and violence intervention; classroom instruction about substance abuse prevention and criminal law; parent education on topics such as youth issues related to violence and the criminal justice system; building rapport with students to help students to see officers as a youth advocate whose primary concern is their safety and security.
Hamada said the district needs to get the message out about why police are in schools and changes to their role after police reform laws approved this year by the Legislature.
“Police in schools and their role includes major changes,” Hamada said. “Something the community doesn’t have is the image is more of a community policing and kids benefit from that. Society and policing are changing and school officers are taking on a different role.”
Bento said it’s confusing to the community because the district has school security officers as well as school resource officers. School security is part of the district’s Safety Services Team that has 26 members spread across the district.
“The education piece would be really important to talk about the differences between the two positions,” Bento said.
Bento also emphasized the importance to hear from youth about the program and in a community meeting where they can meet with other youth to speak freely about the topic without adults involved.
“If an adult is in their space, youth will not speak or be their authentic selves,” he said.
District staff has yet to present a contract to the board for a school resource officer at Kentwood High, which is in the city of Covington. Covington contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for police services.