SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City School District announced two weeks ago that changes had been implemented regarding policing in its schools as part of a lawsuit settlement.
But Salt Lake School Board member Michael Clara says if a settlement has been reached and changes agreed to, he has yet to see it in writing.
"I just look at it as a public-relations counteroffensive for the district to say, 'Oh yeah, we made these changes and we agreed to these.' But it's like, where is it implemented? It's not implemented on the board level. It's not happening on the principal level or the school level. So where are these changes they're claiming we've done?" he said.
District spokesman Jason Olsen, however, said the changes have actually happened, and Clara was made aware of some of them already.
On March 17, the school district along with the Salt Lake City Police Department announced a settlement had been reached in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several West High School students who were falsely profiled as gang members during a police operation in 2010.
The gang operation targeted Latino, African-American and Pacific Islander students who were questioned and forced to be photographed holding signs identifying themselves as gang members.
According to a press release from the ACLU, as part of the settlement the school district agreed:
• School administrators will only request the involvement of police officers when there is a serious and immediate threat to physical safety or to address criminal conduct of a nonstudent.
• Police will no longer arrest students for behavior like profanity or fighting. Such instances will instead be handled administratively by school officials.
• School resource officers will receive annual in-person training that covers implicit bias, how to engage with youth, and more.
• School district employees will receive training on the appropriate role of police, adolescent development, cultural competency, conflict resolution and de-escalation.
• The school district will amend its policies regarding prohibited gang-related activity to provide clear notice to students and parents, and it will publicly post data on police arrests in school twice a year on its website.
• The school district and the police will establish an oversight committee that will review school-based arrests and other police interventions at least twice a year, meet with community stakeholders, and consider any concerns raised by community members.
Clara has long been an outspoken opponent of how police are utilized in the schools and the way minority students are allegedly treated. In 2015, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights claiming the district handed down disproportionate discipline for black, Latino, Polynesian and Native American students.
Clara said he finds it a little suspicious that the school district would make sweeping changes without any vote from the board of education.
"I'm OK if those are really the things we've agreed to. But I haven't seen any evidence that we've implemented those or we have changed our policies," he said. "So if it's true we're making these sweeping changes I'm not aware of it and I'm on the board. I think they're just window dressing because we haven't done anything on the school level to fix this problem."
Clara said he believes that twice over the past four years, the district held closed-door updates about the lawsuit saying it was hoping to reach a settlement. Clara now would like the district to provide him with a written copy of the settlement so he can see what was agreed to and who agreed to it.
Olsen reaffirmed Thursday that some of the changes have already taken place. For example, a training session was held in January for school administrators and resource officers about defining roles and teaching when it is appropriate for police to be involved in a situation at school and when it is not.
"Mr. Clara has a copy of the PowerPoint that's used in that training. He has a list of all the administrators who took part in that training, and that's been sent to him," Olsen said.
Furthermore, Olsen said there were policy changes that would be coming before the board in April.
"The district agreed to these numerous changes as part of the settlement with the ACLU, and in accordance with the settlement terms, the district is required to provide the ACLU with copies of the necessary changes for their records. Any contention that the district is not making the agreed to changes is false and misleading," he said. "In this settlement the district and board were represented by State Risk Management, and State Risk Management paid the settlement amount."
Olsen said there was no requirement that the board approve these types of settlements in order for them to be legal or binding.
"The school district sees this settlement as a positive move forward for the children and schools of Salt Lake City," he said. "It is unfortunate Mr. Clara is trying to take such a positive agreement and turn it negative."