The Montgomery County Education Board decided Tuesday to extend its review of whether police officers should continue to be stationed in local high schools.
After more than seven months of work, the school board asked MCPS superintendent Jack Smith to get more feedback from parents and students on the future of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
Board members also called for more granular data and expressed concern over allegations that a committee set up to lead the analysis was “flawed” and “clearly prioritized to maintain the status quo”.
“As a school system that has and has said equity as a core value … for years we have had to deal with the disproportionate nature of discipline,” said board member Lynne Harris in a post-meeting interview, “we can’t just label a process that doesn’t is. ” It is not completely transparent, completely objective and ready to push the boundaries of what we do and be very open-minded about what we have done as a system. I haven’t seen that yet, but we will keep pushing. ”
In separate statements on Tuesday, three groups – including a group of six representatives on the committee – voiced concerns that the committee had failed to conduct a full review and “actively ignored” student perspectives.
The group of committee representatives wrote in a letter to the school board and county council that the perspectives of MCPS headquarters and law enforcement officers supporting the program were “over-represented” in the group and that students felt “intimidated”.
They argued that the working group “did not analyze key data and empirical evidence on the impact of the SRO program” and instead chose to “read surface-level articles that argued predominantly in favor of SROs with misleading anecdotal evidence”.
Representatives of the Diversity, Justice, and Inclusion subcommittee of parent teacher associations in Montgomery County raised similar concerns, as did a group called Disability Rights Maryland.
In a statement, Disability Rights Maryland wrote that the working group did not consider the negative interactions that SROs often have with students with disabilities.
“DRM is disappointed that the SRO working group has not explored and prioritized the experiences and needs of the students hardest hit by the SRO program – students with disabilities, as well as Black and Latinx students,” the statement said. “In our portrayal of students with disabilities, we’ve seen firsthand the traumatic and harmful interactions school police can have with students with disabilities, and we’ve seen students criminalized for nonviolent behavior related to disabilities.”
Nick Asante, a member of the school board, said the allegations made by the groups, particularly the student members of the working group, were worrying.
“It was alarming to see how the student members of this committee felt about the way the committee was acting,” Asante said.
Harris suggested that the working group promote one of the students or parishioners to co-chair. Her colleagues didn’t support her proposal, but board chairwoman Brenda Wolff said the group could decide if she liked Harris’ idea.
The final recommendations on the future of the program are due now by May.
MCPS’s review of the SRO program began in June after the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, after a police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for a few minutes and stopped breathing.
Floyd’s death sparked widespread protests across the country, including in Montgomery County, where residents demanded police reform and the removal of officials from schools.
The Montgomery County Schools Board approved a comprehensive assessment of the workplaces and arrest dates of the district’s SROs to determine whether the program should be discontinued or changed.
SROs are assigned to all 25 public high schools in the district. The district directors have unanimously voted to keep the officers in their buildings.
The task force consisted of representatives from the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office, youth welfare, students, parents and community organizations, and has met several times since July to review the SRO program.
This group discussed data on student arrests, legal requirements for providing law enforcement to schools, how an alternative program might meet the legal requirements, and programs that other districts of similar size are using, according to the school board’s records.
The group made 17 recommendations on the SRO program, including that the school board should seek feedback from the community on SROs and further evaluate the program “before determining the status of the SRO program for 2021-2022”.
Further recommendations are:
• Review of student arrest dates quarterly
• Revision of the job descriptions of the SROs
• Prohibition of arresting students on school premises for violations in the community, except in certain circumstances
• Expand training on restorative justice, implicit bias, emergency preparedness and de-escalation
• Involving parents and the school community in recruiting SROs
• Establish “an adequate local law enforcement plan” which is a “pool of officers assigned to each high school or cluster” rather than being stationed in schools
• Developing a system for “tracking the activities of SRO / local law enforcement officers” that includes prevention and intervention activities, mentoring efforts and classroom-related activities
The full list of recommendations will be posted for community members to provide comments before a final decision is made on the future of the program, according to the school council members.
The school authorities also requested more differentiated arrest dates. For example, members wanted more information on how often school administrators initiate the arrest process of students compared to SROs and what offenses students were arrested for.
“Data is clearly a problem,” said Wolff.
MCPS data released in October shows that 460 students have been arrested over the past three school years. Of those arrests, 382 (83%) were from black and Hispanic students. Eleven percent of the arrests over the same period were white students.
According to MCPS data, the MCPS student population is 27% white, 21% black, and 32% Hispanic.
According to the data, students were most often arrested for possession of drugs or weapons and attacking other students. The data were not broken down by school.
The data for each offense has not been broken down by race.
Each of the years for which data was provided showed a decrease in total arrests. 226 students were arrested during the 2017/18 school year, compared with 163 in 2018-19 and 77 in 2019-20.
The data for the 2019-20 school year has only been compiled through March as the COVID-19 pandemic closed school buildings that month.
Hana O’Looney, speaking on behalf of the Montgomery County’s regional student government association, said the data is clear that SROs are not part of MCPS.
The association passed a resolution calling for an end to the program, as well as MoCo Students for Change and Students Toward Equitable Public Schools.
“Schools need to be a safe place for all students, not a group at the expense of others,” said O’Looney. “One study after another has shown that the criminalization of black, brown, and disabled students is disproportionate, even though there are no national or Maryland studies that show that SROs increase safety in schools.”
MCPS headmasters have unanimously voted for SROs to remain stationed in their schools.
The union, which represents the Montgomery County Police Department, has said it is opposed to terminating the SRO program, and several councilors, including President Sidney Katz, have confirmed this assessment.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at [email protected]
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