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Plan to bring school resource officers back to Olympia campuses officially greenlit by board

Olympia School District's board decided to pass a new safety policy in the wake of a first week of school marked by lockdowns.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Capital High School families experienced two gun scares in four days as the new school year began.

“How can we better ensure that our students and staff are safe?” said Superintendent Patrick Murphy.

After the superintendent and Board President Darcy Huffman vowed Monday to make swift changes to bring school resource officers back, the fate of that decision lay in the hands of the board Thursday night, and after hours of deliberation and amendments, the board decided to pass it.

“With the ever-increasing numbers of situations that come into our schools, that our administrative and counseling teams are just not equipped to handle," said Murphy.

School resource officers, SROs, are armed police officers who have the sworn authority to make arrests, but they’re trained to build positive relationships with kids rather than punish them. Here in Olympia, it’s clear it’s a contentious topic for families. 

“My gut reaction to all the safety incidents at Capital High School was to pull my daughter," said one man in public testimony.

"Reinstating our SROs is the right approach," said Frank Durocher, a candidate for the District 2 seat.

Several members of the public spoke out against the policy.

"I, as a student, am not at all comfortable with police officers walking the same halls as me. Not because I'm doing anything illegal at all, but because I know men wearing that same uniform in that same position of power have still unjustly beat, murdered, shot and arrested my brothers and sisters," said Julian Gabbard, a student at another high school within the district.

Those against the policy said they worry officers on campus would disproportionately punish or traumatize minority students. 

While this partnership would be with the Olympia Police Department, the Thurston County Sheriff described more about the position of an SRO.

"Those school resource officers go through a 40-hour class where they get additional training on case law, regarding search and seizure at the schools," said Sheriff Derek Sanders.

Oversight and accountability was also a topic brought up by parents. 

"I trust that there will be checks and balances to make sure that the SROs' interactions and conduct on campus will be a positive one," one woman said at the podium.

Some others said the focus should instead be on the root problems leading students to get ahold of guns in the first place. But there was one thing everybody could agree on: nobody wants a school shooting.

"We don’t want to have anybody missing at the dinner table," said another parent at the podium.

Capital High School families said regardless of Thursday's decision, they remain on edge and vigilant heading into the rest of the school year after a first week of school marked by gun scares and lockdowns.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old Capital High School student who was arrested Sept. 6 after bringing a loaded firearm to campus on the first day of classes pleaded not guilty on Friday, Sept. 15. A pre-trial court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 19.

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