Columbus City Schools lapses contract with Columbus Police Department

Some members of Columbus police joined demonstrators in a march. Photo by Jake Zuckerman.

After weeks of community upheaval and concessions by city education officials, the Columbus Police Department announced Monday that its contract with Columbus City Schools lapsed. 

The district’s three-year contract with Columbus police placed “resource officers” in 20 high schools and employed two sergeants. That contract expired June 30, and no new contract is in place, according to a CPD statement shared on Twitter. 

CPD Chief Tom Quinlan said abolishment notices and 70-day notices were sent to the 22 officers per the department’s current collective bargaining agreement. CPD will maintain its one-year contract with the Worthington City School District, which employs one officer assigned to Worthington Kilbourne High School. 

“I have the duty to ensure proper distribution of personnel, and without a contract in place, I am required to assign the officers to a position that is operational and essential,” he said. 

According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 45% of all public schools in the U.S. employ school resource officers — sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority and specialized training who work in collaboration with school organizations. 

In mid-June, the Columbus City School Board announced a “Safe Schools Working Group” to evaluate schools’ safety and security programs, primarily the use of in-school police officers. More than 230 students, staff, families and community members signed on to the working group. 

“When we look at our safety system, we understand that we need to take a holistic approach,” Columbus Board of Education President Jennifer Adair said in a press release. “It’s about ensuring the safety of our buildings, physically, for our students and staff and community, but also the emotional and mental safety of everyone in our buildings.”

The group’s formation came in the wake of protests against police brutality and the death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers. Protests rallying against CPD and Columbus City Schools’ relationship spawned across the city, and an Instagram account, @cpdoutofccs, and #cpdoutofccs garnered notoriety on social media.

However, former resource officers pushed back, saying police in schools protect students. 

“We do not use wooden bullets, pepper spray and tear gas on students sitting in classrooms,” CPD spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis said in a statement issued in June. “But we do not want to impose on the schools if we are not welcome. Columbus police priority wherever and whenever is safety first, that includes the safety of students and staff.”

Districts in large, metropolitan cities across the country have also removed or discussed removing police officers from schools, including Oakland, California; Denver; Milwaukee; Seattle; and St. Paul, Minnesota. 

The Columbus Board of Education tentatively intends to select the Safe Schools Working Group members by July 21 and to have the group’s recommendations presented to the board by mid-November.