Here Are The People Minneapolis Schools Hired To Replace Campus Police After George Floyd’s Death — And Why Some Are Raising New Red Flags
Here are the People Minneapolis Schools Hired to Replace Campus Police After George Floyd’s Death — And Why Some Are Raising New Red Flags
After the Minneapolis school district decided to sever ties with the local police department following the death of George Floyd, they enlisted the services of Timothy Blaylark and Abigail MacLaren to form their new school safety team.
Blaylark, a corrections officer and co-owner of a security firm, has a vastly different background compared to his colleague MacLaren. While Blaylark’s resume includes training in responding to "terrorist bombings" and experience in preventing workplace violence, MacLaren comes from a background in education, with a master’s degree and over a decade of experience working at a theater company in Montana.
MacLaren expressed her excitement in a cover letter, stating her commitment to developing and implementing new systems that prioritize the safety and success of the city’s youth. She emphasized the importance of strong communication and relationships in fostering a safe and inclusive school environment.
Although the district refused to disclose the names and qualifications of the 11 individuals selected for the role of "public safety support specialists," obtained documents provide insight into the district’s new school security team. More than half of the new hires have previous experience as police officers, security personnel, or corrections officers, which has angered activists advocating for police-free schools.
This decision by the district carries national significance, as districts across the country are reevaluating the presence of police officers on school campuses in the wake of Floyd’s death and subsequent protests. District leaders are navigating uncharted territory as they revise their school safety strategies without relying on police forces.
Local activist Marika Pfefferkorn, an advocate for police-free schools, criticized the district for not fully addressing the issue of criminalization in their approach to safety. She argued that the decision to hire public safety support specialists was rushed and lacked sufficient community input. The recent implementation of a digital surveillance tool during remote learning further fueled the controversy.
While the number of campus police officers has increased in recent years, there is limited research showing that they actually enhance school safety. Pfefferkorn and other activists argue that officers should be replaced with counselors and social workers, especially considering the disproportionate arrest rates of students of color. The Minneapolis district’s decision to move away from campus cops does not necessarily align with a broader movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
Investigations by have revealed concerning backgrounds for some of the new Minneapolis support specialists. Blaylark, who previously worked at the Minneapolis airport police department, was involved in federal job discrimination lawsuits and faced allegations of groping a female officer and making threatening gestures. Another safety specialist, Xiong Lee, resigned from his law enforcement job after being arrested for domestic abuse and making threats against his then-wife.
In conclusion, the Minneapolis school district’s shift away from the police department has led to the hiring of Timothy Blaylark and Abigail MacLaren, who bring contrasting backgrounds to the newly formed school safety team. The district’s decision has sparked national conversations about the role of police on school campuses and calls for alternative safety measures. Further scrutiny reveals concerning details about the backgrounds of some new support specialists, highlighting the importance of thorough vetting processes in ensuring the safety and well-being of students.
Following the termination of the police department contract by the Minneapolis Public Schools in light of George Floyd’s death, the district has hired 11 public safety support specialists. The district’s decision has stirred controversy amongst Minneapolis activists. Khulia Pringle, a family advocate, expressed concern over the hiring of one of the specialists, Lee, due to his criminal record. Pringle emphasized the potential for implicit bias and demanded information on Lee’s personal growth in the past decade. The district has faced pushback from both sides, with community activists criticizing the decision to hire the support specialists, and some school officials defending the presence of police in schools. The hiring process has been marked by confusion, with confusion regarding the role of the specialists, according to a school board member and some of the applicants. Despite this, the district maintains that the specialists will focus on diffusing conflicts and improving campus environments for students of color.
The training materials obtained through a public records request highlight the responsibilities of the support specialists in the Minneapolis school district. These specialists are expected to establish relationships with students, ensure their safety, assess building security, manage conflicts, and act as a mediator between the school and law enforcement. It is emphasized that they should prioritize the best interests of the students and avoid taking on roles like a bouncer or police officer. However, they are provided guidance on when to contact the police department if necessary. The training also covers topics such as implicit racial bias, characteristics of white supremacy culture, and nonviolent crisis intervention.
acquired these training materials, among others, by requesting public records from the Minneapolis school district. The documents outline the specialists’ duties, which include building relationships with students, ensuring their safety, and de-escalating conflicts. It is explicitly stated that they are not intended to act as hall monitors or police officers.
Regarding the composition of the support specialists, it is noteworthy that two of them hold master’s degrees, while seven have associate degrees. Specialists without a background in criminal justice were assigned to campuses with a higher percentage of students of color (60% enrollment), whereas those with law enforcement experience were placed in buildings where students of color comprised 68% of the total enrollment. The Minneapolis district has approximately 35,000 students, with around 65% being youth of color.
The specialists’ assignments exhibit a considerable disparity in terms of racial demographics. For instance, MacLaren, who is white, was assigned to buildings where students of color constituted approximately 42% of the total enrollment. On the other hand, Sheikhnur Ali, who has been a district special education assistant since 2016, was assigned to schools where students of color made up roughly 82% of the total enrollment.
Pringle, a key figure in the district, acknowledges that the majority of the support specialists hired are black men. Although she appreciates the racial diversity among the specialists, she points out that they do not hold leadership positions in a predominantly white school system where two-thirds of the staff are white. She raises concerns about the traditional role of black males in the district, often acting as overseers rather than leaders, responsible for regulating the behavior of black students because white teachers are deemed incapable of handling them.
The support specialists possess relevant prior work experience, often involving at-risk youth. For instance, Terrence Roberts, who has been working in student discipline in the district since 2010, has experience mediating conflicts between rival gangs. CJ Johnson, previously a district special education assistant, gained recognition in a local news article after a non-profit job program helped him turn away from a life involving gangs and drug dealing.
Jermika Craft, who has experience as both a district behavior specialist and a juvenile corrections officer, expressed her passion for helping rehabilitate young individuals in her cover letter. She aims to provide alternative ways of coping with anger and pain.
The support specialists began their positions while students were learning remotely due to the pandemic. However, once students return to campus, it is crucial for the district to implement a rigorous evaluation process for assessing the performance of the specialists. Additionally, there is a need for the district to thoroughly examine its approach to school safety in the future, ensuring that it is culturally affirming, acknowledges students’ experiences, and avoids further criminalization.
The conversation around this topic is ongoing, and it is essential for the district to take further steps to create a genuine sense of safety in Minneapolis Public Schools. This should involve a comprehensive evaluation of current practices and a commitment to understanding and meeting the needs of all students without perpetuating criminalization.