The Beginning

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl writes a letter to the Spokane School District Superintendent stating after “learning of” multiple incidents and having reviewed “dozens of police reports, it appears there is a pattern of assaults and threats occurring to students and staff that are not following reporting requirements as described in RCW.26.44.040”. Chief Meidl goes on to express his concern for the safety of our communities children and that the laws protecting them do not “have carve outs or exceptions for philosophies that may be contrary to clearly stated statutes.”


The Real Beginning

When Chief Meidl references “philosophies that may be contrary to stated statutes” he is likely referencing the school district’s expressed desire to reduce the high rate of arrests, expulsions, and suspensions they’ve seen in prior years. In 2014-2015 Spokane School District had over 800 arrests and referrals to Juvenile court. The suspension rate was 8.5% of the student population. Second highest of all Washington school districts. A disproportionate number of those students were kids of color or kids with disabilities.

Therefore, prior to the 2018-2019 school year, the district began adopting a new research-based safety plan. A large part of which involved replacing Campus based Resource Officers with Safety and Wellness specialists. While CROs were not police officers they were commissioned to investigate crimes, make arrests, take children to jail, and file reports with SPD. Safety and Wellness officers are not commissioned and do not investigate nor make arrests.

After implementing this new safety plan for the 2018-2019 school year the district saw arrests fall to 88 and suspensions and expulsions decreasing by 25%. Disproportionate rates of discipline for students of color and with disabilities reduced to almost zero.


The Confusion

The district responded to Chief Meidl’s letter in a general tone of confusion, disbelief, and surprise. The letter asks the chief why, if he’s been concerned about children and staff safety, he didn’t immediately inform the district in order to jointly address the problem. It also states that the district has never been made aware of concerns by any staff, parent, or other entity regarding their approach to reporting and denies any allegation that the administration discourages staff from following mandated reporting requirements.

Lastly the district states they received Chief Meidls letter and media inquiries about the letter within hours of each other. And expresses a desire to understand his method of communication regarding his concerns.


Enter the FBI

On March 15th, four days after Chief Meidl sends his letter to the district, the members of the Principals Association all receive an email from Christian Parker at the FBI stating they have received “allegations of criminal activity in the SPS schools” allegations that include “assault, sexual assault, threats of violence and drug use in local schools that have not been reported properly”.

The email further asks recipients to contact the FBI if they’ve been instructed or pressured by anyone at the SPS to not report a crime.

The FBI does not comment or even confirm whether they are investigating, and both the district and SPD are declining further comment until after the FBI investigation.


What Is Mandatory Reporting Anyway

At the core of Chief Meidl’s allegations and therefore the FBI involvement is his assertion that the district is violating the laws around mandatory reporting. Specifically, the Chief references RCW.26.44.040.

A “mandatory reporter” is a person who holds a professional position that is required under the law to report to either the Department of Children’s Services or Law Enforcement when they know of or suspect child abuse.

 All fifty states have had some form of mandatory reporting laws on the books since 1967. They have changed often. Mostly relating to who is required to report as well as consequences for not reporting. Most states include any form of profession working with children to be mandatory reporters. Obviously, school district personnel fit those criteria.

Chief Meidl also references RCW 74.34.020 in his letter. It is the same basic concept as the prior RCW but is in relation to vulnerable adults.


Segue Into the “Dozen of Reports” Chief Meidl Reviewed

Spokane Public Radio public records requested and obtained the thirty reports the chief reviewed. SPR said that “more than half of the reports were categorized as some form of assault”. Some of which were fights between students and students threatening each other or threatening staff. Not all were reported to the police. However, not all would fall under the requirement for mandatory reporting.  Several reports such as reported sexual assaults were in fact reported to the police. In those cases, Chief Meidl takes issue with the timing of the reports to the police.

These thirty reports are likely some of the focus of the FBI investigation along with any further information they garner from staff during their investigation.


Where We Stand Now

Where we stand now is at an important crossroads in how we keep our communities and our children safe. Chief Meidl’s letter claims that the district is violating laws meant to keep our children safe. However what he is actually saying and he says it clearly when he says “philosophies that may be contrary to clearly stated statutes” is that he disagrees with the district’s changing philosophy. He’s simply grasping at the mandatory reporting statute to try and make something happen.

Chief Meidl believes the way you keep kids safe is to have police on campus and police in charge of discipline and police police police. He’s also likely afraid that if the district can change their focus and be successful at it what could that lead to? Could it lead to less funding for police because of less need? Is it the “D” word?

The school district is attempting to interrupt the schools to prison pipeline. They are attempting to implement anti-racist and ableist policies while still disciplining students and keeping their campuses safe.

Where this battle lands is important. Will we continue to allow police to dictate to communities or will we allow communities to dictate to police?

The change from CRO’s to Campus Safety Specialists actually occurred in March of 2020. While significant training happened after the 2015-16 school year with a national group called Strategies for Youth for the CRO’s and that brought arrests down to a little more than 100 and subsequent policy changes were enacted, the addition of policy 6514, first of its kind in our state requiring quarterly disaggregated reporting of CRO activity, training, the skeleton of a complaint process, and use of force guidelines, the change of job title was not enacted until the Equity Resolution of June 2020 outlined the plan to make the change. The changes required bargaining with the SEA as the CRO’s were SEA members.