Washougal School Board approves school resource officer contract

School district, city officials say police needed in schools for 'safe, drug-free, violence-free learning'

The Washougal Police Department is going back to school.

The city of Washougal and Washougal School District have renewed their agreement to provide a school resource officer (SRO) in Washougal schools during the 2021-22 school year, with officer Kevin Wooldridge set to take on the role.

“We’ve had (an SRO for) 15 or 16 years, and we appreciate having one within our system,” the school district’s assistant superintendent, Aaron Hansen, said during the Washougal School Board’s Aug. 10 meeting. “We’re looking forward to working with officer Wooldridge and appreciate the partnership we have with the Washougal Police Department and Chief (Wendi) Steinbronn.”

Wooldridge was originally named to the SRO role for the 2020-21 school year, but the city and school district temporarily eliminated the position after the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures throughout Washington state.

Wooldridge previously served as an SRO in Georgia and has completed basic and advanced training through the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“He’s excited to move into that role, and we think he’ll be a fantastic fit for our district,” Washougal Police Department Captain Zane Freschette told The Post-Record. “I think he really embraces what both our police department and (school) district are going for — a guiding, helpful, mentoring role versus an enforcement capacity, which frankly mirrors what we’re trying to do (throughout the) department.”

The Washougal School District’s updated school safety and security services program policy states: “(SROs) shall support a positive school climate by developing positive relationships with students, parents and staff, and by helping to promote a safe, inclusive and positive learning environment.”

“This policy clearly articulates and identifies the role of the officer, not only the training (they need) but the responsibility of the building administrators to handle the discipline,” Hansen said.

The policy states that the primary responsibility for maintaining proper order and conduct in the schools resides with principals or their designees and that an SRO is prohibited from becoming involved in formal school discipline situations that are the responsibility of school administrators.

“There might be a situation where the building administrator asks for the SRO to participate,” Hansen said. “The policy also identifies emergencies that an SRO is going to engage in. Those things are prepared for and planned for. We hope they never happen, but we appreciate having a school resource officer within our system.”

Washougal City Council members approved an interlocal agreement with the school district for the SRO position during their Aug. 23 meeting. The agreement states that the SRO will act as a liaison between the school district and the city and provide “a safe, drug-free and violence-free learning environment in Washougal schools.”

Freschette said the agreement is “for the most part along the same lines as in previous years.”

“(We’re having) conversations about making it a little bit more of a student-friendly position, so it feels a little bit more like our police agency is there to work with the students and help the students,” he said. “We’re really trying to get away from the perception that students need to be worried or afraid when police are around schools.”

The city and school district will split the cost of the SRO position during the school year, with the city paying the full costs during the summer. The position’s salary is set at $9,593 a month, including benefits.

Washougal School Board President Cory Chase expressed similar sentiments during the board’s Aug. 10 meeting.

“A school resource officer’s presence in the school is not to be an arrestor, to handcuff kids,” said Chase, a Port of Portland police officer. “That is not their purpose. Their purpose should be to be there as a support to the school district and a support to the community. We have a great school district, a great town and great students. However, having a resource officer there is helpful in case there is something very dramatic (happens).”

“The school resource officer’s purpose is to not add students to the criminal justice system, but quite the opposite — to support them by mentoring and training them and potentially teaching classes on criminal justice and helping children see a possible future in law enforcement,” Chase said.

In previous years, the Washougal SRO was predominantly stationed at Washougal High School and visited the district’s middle and elementary schools on a periodic or when-needed basis, but Wooldridge will divide his time more equally among all of the district’s educational facilities during the 2021-22 school year, Freschette said.

“I don’t know that there’s going to be a rigid structure for that, and we’re going to leave those details up to the folks at the school district,” Freschette said. “But I do know they have a push for it to be expanded beyond the high school ‘home base.’ They’re going to sprinkle him around as they see fit. I think he’ll have a much larger presence in the middle schools, as well as a slight uptick in the grade schools.”

The partnership benefits the city of Washougal and its police department in a variety of ways, according to Freschette.

“Now more than ever, it’s really important for us to be able to have contacts with people in our community when it’s not just during the bad times for them,” he said. “As far as law enforcement as a profession, that’s one of the big downsides or difficulties that we struggle with — most of the time people are dealing with the police when they’re having a bad day, or sometimes their worst day. It’s super important for us to get out there and have people feel like our police department is more of a part of the community as opposed to an enforcement agent.”