The Helena City Commission in a meeting decided to continue the School Resource Officer program for another year and carry out an extensive review of the program before suggesting a new one.
The proposal to end the program on December 31 this year was introduced by Commissioner Heather O’Loughlin, Mayor Wilmot Collins and Commissioners Sean Logan and Dean voted against it, commissioner Andres Haladay voted in Loughlin’s favor.
The meeting on Thursday was the first discussion members had on the subject after they went through testimony at a public meeting on July 9.
The City Commission was divided on this issue.
On one side is Commissioner O’Loughlin who has always been a strong advocate of terminating the SRO contract and applying a more streamlined model for providing school services, she cited student testimony of unfavorable interactions with officers.
Another view is put forth by former teacher and Commissioner Emily Dean; she was concerned about the effect that ending the SRO program would have on Helena Public Schools, as the school year was about to start, the “restorative justice” program that she had applied to her classroom had taken three months to plan.
Commissioner Sean Logan felt that the proposal was being pushed too fast, and the community should be given more time to carefully weigh the pros and cons of such a move. A more thorough review should be conducted before going further.
At the meeting, the Commission opted to go 3-2 with the proposal of Commissioner Emily Dean to continue with armed forces in Helena Public Schools. An updated agreement would be worked out by the staff in consultation with the Helena School District, which would be effective on June 30, 2021.
In the community, supporters feel that school safety is improved by the presence of SRO’s, opponents feel that they create a less conducive school environment, especially among the Black and the indigenous students.