An Oregon district has hit pause on a tradition of police welcoming kids back to school after some families found the practice more alarming than comforting.
“After a year of being away from school, this exciting event was experienced with fear and surprise for some students,“ Superintendent Melissa Goff of the Greater Albany Public Schools District said in a statement.
Some families complained the presence of uniformed police created “extra anxiety” as kids returned to class following COVID-19 pandemic closures, Goff said.
“For some of our kids, the badge is a barrier that makes them uncomfortable walking through our doors,” Goff said.
Chief Marcia Harnden of the Albany Police Department wrote on Facebook that police were “saddened and disappointed” to be asked to leave campuses on back-to-school day and expressed regret that some families were upset by their presence.
“We hope there can be a time that there is no fear when the police are present and we continue to work towards that goal,” Harnden wrote.
In the past, school resource officers and firefighters have greeted returning Albany students with high fives and stickers on back-to-school days.
Police have stopped staffing the school resource program, but officers were still on hand to welcome students last week following the pandemic closures, Goff said in her statement.
After some parents complained, the district halted the practice “so that all students could feel welcome on this important day,” she said. Firefighters will continue to greet returning students.
“This does not reflect our relationship or respect for APD in any way; rather it reflects the needs of ALL of our students to feel welcome and included,” Goff said.
Harnden asked that “dangerous and hurtful” social media messages about the decision come to an end.
“Insults and hate will not solve anything,” she wrote, calling on parents to be good role models for their children. “Understanding, knowledge, and acceptance will bring us together.”
A rally to support police and firefighters has been scheduled Friday in Albany, according to a Facebook page promoting the event.
The Greater Albany Public Schools district has more than 9,300 K-12 students, according to the district. It’s the 15th largest school district in Oregon.
Albany is located along Interstate 5 south of Salem.