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Albany school district to 'push pause' on tradition of police greeting students on first day

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Albany Police Chief Marcia Harnden hands out stickers to Liberty kindergarten students Nathan and Caleb Rose on March 29. 

Albany public school students will no longer be greeted by police officers on the first day of school after some students and their families expressed fear and anxiety because of the officers’ presence last week.

Rumors circulating on social media prompted Melissa Goff, superintendent of Greater Albany Public Schools, to release a statement Wednesday addressing the district's decision to discontinue the tradition. Goff said the lack of officers assigned to campuses, often called school resource officers or SROs, is unrelated to the decision and was a result of shortfalls in Albany's city budget and staffing challenges in the Albany Police Department.

Goff described the decision as a “pause” in the district's tradition and did not indicate whether the change would be permanent.

“In this case, for some of our students and families, the presence of officers on campus created extra anxiety," Goff said. “After a year of being away from school, this exciting event was experienced with fear and surprise for some students, and does not reflect the trauma-informed approach we strive for in schools. Unfortunately, this turned what should have been a positive and exciting start into something different for these children, and that is not what we want for our students.”

Officials say Tiger Woods was driving nearly 40 miles per hour over the speed limit in February near Los Angeles before he veered off the road, hit a tree and flipped over."Estimated speeds at the first area of impact were 84-87 miles per hour," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. "And the estimated speed before the vehicle struck the tree was 75 miles per hour."The posted speed limit for the road is 45 miles per hour. However, officials say they won't give Woods a citation."Part of it was the circumstance he endured during the collision and in order to issue a citation, usually you need something to indicate an independent witness or an observation from a peace officer," said Capt. James Powers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Investigators examined a data recorder from inside the vehicle. They believe Woods may have hit the accelerator mistakenly, instead of the brake."We don't know that. He doesn't have any recollection of the incident. And like I said that is a speculation. There is zero braking on the data on the data recorder and 99% acceleration on the pedal," James said.One of the lingering questions: whether Woods was distracted while driving. Police decided not to even try to find out. They didnt check his phone."It's not going to change anything. The cause of the collision was the speed, an inability to maintain the road way. And so all it would have been is an associated factor, which wouldn't have caused the collision," Powers said.Investigators stressed the golfer wasn't under the influence and didn't find any substances or open containers in the vehicle. They defended their decision not to test Woods."Due to his injuries and the traumatic nature of his injuries, it would not be appropriate to do any field sobriety test," James saidThey explained there was no probable cause to get a blood sample and his history of prescription drug use was not enough for a search warrant. The L.A. County Sheriff insists Woods didn't receive any special treatment."The decision not to issue a citation would be the exact same for anyone in this room who went through the same situation-- solo collision. No witnesses. Infraction only. We're not going to issue a citation that wasn't in the peace officer's presence. Period," Villanueva said.For Newsy, I'm Austin Kim

Goff said the decision was made with the intent of ensuring all students feel safe on campus, not only the students who feel comfortable around law enforcement.

“As a result, we are making only one, but an important, substantive change: we are now actively listening to all those experiences and perspectives and considering them in decision-making for this future event,” Goff said. “Viewed through this lens, the picture becomes much clearer. Some students are certainly happy to have a sticker and a virtual high five. For some of our kids, the badge is a barrier that makes them uncomfortable walking through our doors.”

Albany fire personnel also typically greet students on their first day of school and will continue to do so when time permits.

Goff said inaccurate information about the decision has been circulating on social media, which prompted her to make a public statement.

The decision to “push pause on having police officers greet … students on their first day of school” was made after she and Albany Police Chief Marcia Harnden were contacted by a family to share their concerns, Goff said, adding that the school district still has a positive relationship with Albany police.

“We have always had a positive relationship with the Albany Police Department and appreciate all the positive work they do for our community,” Goff said. “We also are deeply grateful for all of our parents and their perspectives. We believe that together, both APD and GAPS can model for our community how to repair relationships and build trust. We are hopeful to celebrate with Chief Harnden at our upcoming ribbon-cutting ceremonies at (South Albany and West Albany high schools), and we look forward to our continued collaboration in the weeks and years to come.”

Albany police had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publishing.

K. Rambo can be contacted at 541-812-6091 or k.rambo@lee.net. Follow on Twitter via @k_rambo_.

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