MANKATO — All of the dozen speakers during a virtual forum Tuesday either were opposed to police officers in Mankato schools or had some reservations.

The Mankato Area School District is conducting a series of public forums and an online survey before the School Board decides next month whether to keep officers in three of its secondary schools.

Most of the participants who joined an online conversation Tuesday evening said they do not think officers should be in schools.

“SROs negatively effect the mental heath of our Black and brown students,” Emma Zellmer said. “Even if a student is able to finish on time and graduate, the detrimental effects of being racially profiled in their youth will effect their leaning capabilities and success for the rest of their lives.

“Police are not trained in child development,” said Barbara Carson, who has taught university students studying law enforcement. “Mankato police do a pretty good job doing what they are trained to do, but I don’t think they’re trained to help kids stay in school or trained to understand why some kids act up.”

Several speakers said the dollars spent on officers should be instead invested in student supports such as additional counselors.

“For me it’s really difficult to imagine what SROs (school resource officers) really bring to the table in terms of using person-centered practices,” said Kirby Crow. “I think that money would be better spent getting advocates and more behavior interventionists into the schools so we can actually look at the roots of the problem and try to address those.”

Other participants had mixed feelings about resource officers.

Parent Lisa Hoffman Wojcik said a school officer has helped her oldest son, who has special needs. But she said she also recognizes that other students and families have not had that same positive experience.

As a parent and a district employee, Alison Troldahl said she has seen mostly positive interactions between officers and students. She also worries what would be the impact if officers only came to the schools when called for negative incidents. But she said she also appreciated hearing the concerns expressed Tuesday and her viewpoint was still undecided.

The School Board will receive a summary of the feedback before it decides in late December whether to extend, alter or end the contract to have officers dedicated to East and West high schools and Prairie Winds Middle School. The existing contract with the city of Mankato is expiring at the end of the year.

The final forum, which is a specialized forum for immigrants, will be held Friday morning. Go to www.isd77.org for details and registration.

An online survey is open through Nov. 23. Go to https://soundoffmankato.mankatomn.gov/maps-sro-community-surveys.

The district received around 100 responses to the online survey on the first day it opened, said Scott Hare, the district’s director of student support services.

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