Arlington Co. schools to reexamine relationship with police, school resource officer program

In the midst of the national discussion about systemic racism, the Arlington County School Board will consider whether to end its practice of having police officers in schools in the Virginia county.

“We have decided it is time to evaluate and examine our partnership with ACPD (Arlington County Police Department), and specifically to review our long-standing practice of school resource officers in our schools,” said Arlington County Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Duran, as he opened a video-linked discussion of Thursday’s board meeting.

In a presentation, internal data from the school system shows Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately referred to law enforcement for certain offenses, compared to white students.

Duran and the board pointed out discussions about equity in school safety and security started long before the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, in May 2020.

“We are aware that while there’s a national conversation, there has been for some time a local conversation going on about the same topic,” said school board member Nancy Van Doren.

“I believe we’re at a very important civil rights moment,” said Board Chair Monique O’Grady.

In the presentation, surveys showed most students, and a majority of staff feela safe with school resource officers on school grounds.

Lt. Eliseo Pilco, a school resource officer supervisor, expressed willingness to work with school officials to ensure the program is reflective of the community. He said officers understand the importance of their role.

“We don’t take it lightly,” Pilco said.

Duran said Arlington residents have been calling for an end to racial inequities in the school system.

A working group, which is expected to be in place by December, will “really review those concerns, look at practices, and possibly reinvent our partnership” with police, Duran said.

Van Doren said re-evaluating, or possibly ending, the relationship with police will take time, especially with much of the school system’s energies going toward virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We really have two epidemics going on in our country,” said Van Doren. “We’re going to find the bandwidth in Arlington to deal with both.”

Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, in Maryland, are discussing the role of school resource officers in county schools.

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