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New petition supports resource officer program at Walla Walla High School

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Edwards

Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office Deputy Ian Edwards walks the Walla Walla High School campus in May, 2019. He's been the school resource officer since the fall of 2018.

A new online petition has been started in support of Walla Walla High School’s resource officer program and current resource officer Ian Edwards, a Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

This petition, at ubne.ws/supportSRO, has 1,661 signatures as of Monday a 7:30 a.m. and was created in response to a different petition started last week by Rosa Tobin demanding that Walla Walla School District end its school resource officer program.

In Ray Hansen’s petition asking Walla Walla school leaders to continue the district’s current program, he wrote that Edwards, the school’s resource officer since September 2018, “has been an exemplary example to students and staff in his ability to communicate and to listen.”

“He utilizes an open-door policy, and he truly cares, not only for the safety of everyone on campus, but (their) well being,” Hansen wrote. “With school violence occurring across the nation, it is imperative that Deputy Edwards continue to use his training and resources to keep the campus safe.”

Tobin disagrees that having a law enforcement officer at school equates to a safer school.

“There is no evidence that SRO positions on school campuses reduce crime,” Tobin said. “However, there is evidence that the presence of SROs on school campuses results in students feeling less safe; oftentimes, the students who report feeling less safe are students of color and those with disabilities.”

When Tobin created her petition last week, Edwards himself responded with a social media post.

“I want to just say that I absolutely love being a part of Wa-Hi in the role of SRO,” Edwards wrote. “My kids go to school there too, and I truly feel like I have 1,600 kids that are kind of mine too.”

On Sunday, Tobin said she doesn’t doubt his sincerity.

“(My) petition isn’t about Ian Edwards as a person, but rather the position he holds as an SRO,” Tobin said. “This distinction is critical. I do not doubt that Ian Edwards cares for students. However, the qualifications and duties of an SRO outlined by the interlocal agreement between Walla Walla Public Schools, Walla Walla County and Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office are consistent with that of police work.”

The issue comes at a time when racial tension is high in Walla Walla and across the nation.

Whitman College recently announced that Walla Walla Police Department officers would no longer be allowed to conduct training on its campus because of a tattoo Officer Nat Small’s forearm that some in the area have called out as racist.

Small has since stated he will have the tattoo altered.

Tobin cites Whitman College’s decision in her petition, which has 534 signatures as of today at 7:30 a.m., and urges Walla Walla Public Schools to take similar action.

Hansen’s petition, like Tobin’s, urges signers to also call and write district Superintendent Wade Smith.

Smith said last week that the decision on whether to have a law enforcement officer at the high school is one for the Walla Walla School Board, not the superintendent. He said people would be better off contacting school board members.

School board members had already planned to address the issue before the petitions were started. It will be discussed at the board’s July 21 meeting.

School board Vice President Derek Sarley said people wanting to share their thoughts should submit comments by July 20 to sgolden@wwps.org.

Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-551-8896.

Reporter

Jeremy Burnham covers education and Columbia County for the Union-Bulletin. He is a recent graduate of Eastern Washington University, where he studied journalism, and is an Eastern Eagle fanatic.