Protesters call for removal of police officers from Lawrence schools, make other demands
photo by: Dylan Lysen
A group of about 50 protesters gathered outside the Lawrence school district’s administrative offices on Monday to demand action related to the Black Lives Matter movement and a recent paraeducator unionization effort.
Prior to the Lawrence school board meeting, members of the protesting group — known as the Lawrence Education Justice Collective — called for the school district to remove police from schools, hire more Black teachers, end “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies and mandate Black history and ethnic studies in school curriculum.
They also called for the district to recognize a group of paraeducators as a union. The paraeducator group, which is working with a large national union known as Communications Workers of America, had asked for the board for recognition at its meeting earlier in the month.
The protesting group was made up of paraeducators, former students and community members, among others. Their protest was overwhelmingly peaceful, with only one minor incident of conflict when board President Melissa Johnson asked one of the protesters to stop swearing while addressing the board during its public comment period.
During the protest, Superintendent Anthony Lewis and some other administrators were seen talking to protesters. Before going into the offices for the meeting, Lewis told the Journal-World he was outside to hear the protesters’ demands, adding that he appreciated their voices as a way to hold him accountable as the district’s leader.
photo by: Dylan Lysen
During the board meeting, Lewis addressed the protesters’ demands, adding that he believes they largely align with the school district’s mission. He said the school district is working to increase the number of Black teachers and has been able to do so in recent years. He also said the school district does not use “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies and the district is committed to improving Black and ethnic studies. Additionally, Lewis said the board will soon meet in a work session to discuss the paraeducator group’s proposal to unionize.
As for the use of police in schools, which is through the school resource officer program provided by the Lawrence Police Department, Lewis said the school district is in the process of taking “action steps” to improve the program. Those steps included reaching out to the City of Lawrence to propose increasing racial equity training for those officers, he said.
However, some protesters who spoke to the board during the public comment period said the school district should end its relationship with the LPD. One protester criticized Lewis’ comments earlier this month, when he told the Journal-World that the school district hoped to strengthen its relationship with the LPD, rather than ending the use of SROs like school districts in major cities across the country have done in response to the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
“Cops have no place in our schools,” the protester said. “The time to act was yesterday, but it can also be now.”
After the protesters’ comments, board members Paula Smith and Kelly Jones said they wanted to have further conversations on the issue.
“Police-free schools is something I’m passionate about,” Smith said, noting one of her children is incarcerated. “I think we can improve the work we are currently doing and I want to continue asking ourselves if we are doing enough.”
In other business, the board ratified a contract with the local teachers union for the 2020-2021 school year, which included pay increases. The board also approved raises for classified and administrative employees.
According to a memo to the school board, the total amount that the district spends on wages for its teachers increased by 2.4%. The total amount for administrators increased by 2.38%, and the total amount for classified staff increased by 3.3%. When benefits and other costs are factored in, the district will be paying $1.3 million more in total teacher compensation, $155,000 more for administrators and $674,000 more for classified staff.
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