The Reality of School Resources Officers
Amidst important dialogues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and dismantling systemic racism, the role of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program has come into question throughout Maryland’s largest school district and community, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The data is clear: SROs are more harmful than helpful to students and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. In November, Councilmembers Will Jawando and Hans Reimer introduced Bill 46-20, which would effectively dismantle MCPS’ SRO program. The lawmakers argue the officer program’s $3 million funding would be better spent to expand mental health resources and after-school activities for students, as well as training for school employees in restorative justice. As the primary stakeholders in the SRO program, students across Montgomery County are united in opposition and have strong support for the councilmembers’ bill.
Annual data released by the Board of Education reveals that 50% of SRO arrests are of Black students, whereas only 21% of students in MCPS compose that demographic. In the past 3 years, 80% of student suspensions have been of Black and Hispanic students, statistically making them three times more likely to be suspended than their white and Asian peers. These extreme disparities continue to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, as marginalized students are criminalized due to a lack of restorative practices and other essential resources. Consequently, SROs create an uncomfortable atmosphere for many students in MCPS schools. Emily Woo, a student at Northwest, says SROs “terrify me and I can’t even get close with them.”
A common argument in favor of the program is that SROs can serve as protection in the face of unstable situations: “I understand the safety placement for it” Sophia Palacios, a Northwood student says. However, a 2018 Washington Post Analysis of nearly 200 incidents of gun violence on campus found only two times where a school resource officer successfully intervened in a shooting. To further contribute to these statistics, data provided by the ACLU says a recent evaluation of the impact of North Carolina’s state grant program for school resource officers concluded that middle schools that used state grants to hire and train SROs did not report reductions in serious incidents, including assaults, homicide, bomb threats, possession/use of alcohol and drugs, or the possession of weapons. All credible data indicates SROs are not benefiting students.
Police are trained to focus on enforcing the law, not student social and emotional well-being. This lack of training and education undermines effective behavior management; students are suffering the consequences. According to a survey conducted by Education Week, 25% of SROs did not receive training or have experience with youth interaction prior to becoming a School Resource Officer. The following are several tools provided to SROs: pepper spray, handcuffs, tasers, and guns. These tools are not appropriate for the classroom or any school environment. w. A 2018 report by [the] Advancement Project, a DC-based nonprofit, documented and mapped over 60 instances of police brutality in schools over the past eight years.
Along with the data affirming that SRO programs are more harmful than beneficial, the vast majority of student organizations believe SROs have not contributed to an increase in school safety. Damascus High School student Camila Cornejo says she feels “school security does more than those officers.” Cornejo adds, “I wouldn’t feel like I’m unsafe without them since I never really felt protected from them in the first place.” Additionally, a statement written by over 30 MCPS staff provides adult insight and support for the removal of SROs from administration across MCPS. The statement addresses the MCAAP’s (Montgomery County Association for Administrators & Principals) position on the issue-the flawed Board of Education SRO Workgroup report, and disregarded Muslim students affected by SROs. The statement also addresses the Safe to Learn Act, which says schools must provide a plan for “adequate local law enforcement coverage” allowing for schools to create less harmful spaces in schools; This can be done without stationing police in schools as portrayed by the fact that a multitude of districts (ones much larger than MCPS)/school levels (elementary/middle) do not have stationed police at schools. The staff say MCPS “cannot claim “Black Lives Matter” or “all means all” while continuing a program that causes emotional, physical, and academic harm to Black and POC students. To further contribute, a recent student statement on SROs signed by over 80 students and uplifting the work of over 5 countywide student advocacy organizations, responds to many other stakeholder groups arguing against SROs in schools. The students “urge the County Council and Board of Education to prioritize student's voice and end the SRO program to strengthen restorative practices.” Students believe we cannot and should not continue a program causing academic harm to Black and POC students, our peers, friends, and people who are a part of our communities. Maahe Kunvar, a student at Northwest High School states, “Our most vulnerable communities, low-income minority communities, are negatively impacted in the way they are over-policed. Arrest rates at Montgomery Blair High School are over 10 times the national average. We do not need law enforcement in our places of education.”
Since the introduction of bill 46-20 calling for the removal of police in schools, Councilmembers Will Jawando, Hans Riemer, and Tom Hucker have been committed to ending the program. Their goal is to reduce the disproportionate impact on people of color and eliminate the racism plaguing our system. With the public hearing for the police-free-schools bill taking place on February 4th, tensions are running high as students countywide call for the removal of the program and urge other Councilmembers to support this action.
Students’ experiences and credible data both conclude school resource officers are anything but a resource for students; SROs contribute to a much more harmful, racist environment, and we should not have them in schools. Rather than investing in and implementing reactive resources such as SROs, we need more proactive resources to create safe learning environments for students. Kunvar states, “We need to invest in counselors, nurses, psychologists, and the implementation of restorative justice practices in our school system. Instead of policing and criminalizing students, our schools need to provide us with the tools we need to thrive as human beings.” We urge the people of Montgomery County to join us in the effort to remove SROs from our schools and advocate for resources that will ensure a safe and healthy environment for every student in MCPS; We implore you all to provide testimony against this unjust program and take action by signing an action alert to urge Councilmembers to support ending the program.