The Arlington County School Board voted unanimously Thursday to remove school resource officers from its hallways, making the Virginia county the second in the region to do so. The 5-0 vote is in line with recommendations made by both Superintendent Francisco Durán and a work group that spent the last school year studying the issue.
Under the motion that was voted on, “officers will not be located in the school buildings” on a day-to-day basis, school board member Cristina Diaz-Torres announced.
“In the event of an emergency or for law enforcement needs, ACPD (Arlington County Police Department) will provide police services as needed,” she read, referring to the Arlington County Police Department. But it will now be incumbent on the school system and police department to “reimagine” their relationship “to meet the needs of students, staff and the ACPS community.”
The name of the SRO program will change, and the decision doesn’t mean that police officers can’t serve as coaches, mentors or take part in other more informal roles within the school system.
Diaz-Torres called it a “critical and momentous moment” for the school system. She said the next step is to take money used to fund the SRO program and reinvest it into increased mental health support and counselors. That’s a decision for the Arlington County Board to make.
“There’s so much more that we need to do to beef up the mental health support for all of our students to ensure that any student in crisis has the resources they need and we never need to have an interaction with an SRO or the criminal legal system at all,” she said.
The 48-member work group met repeatedly over the last school year, primarily in virtual meetings, and came to the table with a wide range of perspectives on the issue. But over time, they were able to reach a consensus on the recommendations put forward. In particular, the committee noted in its report that SROs are “capable, willing adults in schools who are taking on a variety of roles that do not specifically require a law enforcement officer to handle.”
Eric Lotke, who was part of that work group, agreed with Diaz-Torres that it’s time to “move the funds presently allocated to SROs to address the same issues without using the police. Instead we would use mentors, guidance counselors, restorative justice social workers and so forth,” he said.
He conceded that means asking county leaders to reallocate the resources put into the SRO program back into the school system or other agencies that would be relied upon going forward.
Arlington County joins Alexandria City Schools as the only two districts in the region to formally vote to remove SROs from its public schools. But it’s a move other school systems in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland have discussed.
Loudoun County Public Schools just renewed its agreement with local law enforcement agencies. Montgomery County continues to debate the matter, with leaders there pushing for the removal of SROs. Earlier this year, a survey of Prince George’s County parents found overwhelming support for maintaining the program there.