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After cutting ties with police, Minneapolis schools are quietly hiring security guards

Whittier Elementary associate educator Rajel Johnson spoke out against the plan for Minneapolis Public Schools to hire 11 new "public safety support specialists."

Whittier Elementary associate educator Rajel Johnson spoke out against the plan for Minneapolis Public Schools to hire 11 new "public safety support specialists."

In June, like several other public and private institutions, the Minneapolis Board of Education unanimously voted to cancel its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department in response to the killing of George Floyd.

Students at North High School and their representative on the school board, KerryJo Felder, suggested an amendment that would allow northside schools to keep their school resource officers (SROs) if they wanted to, but other board members shot it down. When school starts again, there will be no SROs roaming the halls for the first time in more than 50 years.

But what will replace them? Superintendent Ed Graff is supposed to have a plan for alternative security by next month, but teachers, students, and families say they’ve received no communication from the district to engage them in that process.

Last week the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the teachers union, stumbled upon a posting for a new full-time security position that the district calls “public safety support specialists (PSSS).” They won’t be cops, but are required to have law enforcement degrees and experience. Their list of responsibilities include breaking up fights, monitoring security at events, and providing “a bridge between in-school intervention and law enforcement.”

The district plans to pay PSSS $65,695-$85,790. The application was posted online for two weeks.

On Sunday, more than 100 Minneapolis teachers and families rallied in the parking lot outside the Davis Center, the district headquarters, to protest the hiring – without prior warning – of what they suspect will be “rent-a-cops” with even less accountability than licensed police officers.

“When we said we didn’t want any more SROs, any more police officers in our buildings, we did not mean, 'hire a bunch of private security officers and put them in our buildings,'” said MFT president Greta Callahan, a teacher at Bethune Community School in Near North. “Let me ask you a question. If I order a sandwich, and I say, ‘Hold the mayo,’ does that mean put a bunch of Miracle Whip all over it? They’re missing the point.”

The teachers’ union asked concerned students and parents to call the district with two demands: stop the PSSS hiring process, and involve the public on how school security will be reconstructed.

“It sounds like you’re getting rid of the police and you’re hiring your own private security force. So what we’re about to have is a bunch of [George] Zimmermans walking around making sure our little Trayvon Martins don’t get out of line,” said Whittier Elementary associate educator Rajel Johnson, who is also the father of a Whittier second-grader.

“Because who’s going to hold these people accountable? We don’t know these people. Where are you from? What do you believe in? At least with the police we had some checks and balances.”

Johnson had been a school security monitor for seven years before reaching the top of his pay scale at $18.10 an hour. He criticized the district’s intention to pay these public safety workers far more than most teachers, while failing to invest in hall monitors that have established relationships with students.

The district will save $1.1 million a year after canceling its contract with Minneapolis Police Department. Most of that money -- up to $944,000‬ -- will go toward hiring 11 public safety specialists.

On Monday, Minneapolis Schools acknowledged in a statement that they're hiring these new employees on an "accelerated schedule," in order to have them trained prior to the first day of school this fall.

The 11 job openings are just the first part of a two-step plan that will be presented publicly at the Board of Education meeting on August 18, according to the district, which said a "longer-term, more comprehensive plan that will allow for more thorough planning and community engagement" will unfold next year. 

The statement also claims the job applications posted last week erroneously required a background in law enforcement, and that the vast majority of people scheduled for interviews don't have that experience. In order to prove to students that public safety specialists "will be working in collaboration with schools to continue to dismantle the white supremacist culture we operate under," the district stated it will hold a second round of interviews the week of August 3 that will include students who volunteered to serve on the district's climate and behavior framework committees. 

"We regret any misunderstanding about the intent for these initial positions," according to the statement, which can be read here