Daily school resource officer presence should end, says Arlington Co. superintendent

Arlington County, Virginia, Superintendent Francisco Duran has recommended changing the focus of safety and punishment in public schools by eliminating the daily presence of county police officers.

During a Thursday school board meeting, Duran presented his suggestions for altering the relationship between the school system and the Arlington County Police Department. Since 1969,  specially trained sworn county police school resource officers — SROs — have provided security in Arlington County’s schools.

Since December 2020, amid the national discussion on racial equity — including discipline disparities in public schools — a countywide SRO Work Group has reviewed the current memorandum of understanding, and considered changes.

“My recommendation is that our School Resource Officer program no longer have a daily presence in schools, and that the relationship with them be re-imagined to ensure ongoing partnership and ongoing school safety,” Duran told the school board.

“The goal would be to relocate our SROs to multiple locations near our schools, so they can serve their primary law enforcement roles to support school safety and security, since they will not have an office inside our schools,” Duran said.

The school system is discussing potential locations for the officers to be placed, Duran said.

“I want to underscore that the decision to relocate SROs is not to diminish the long-standing partnership we have with ACPD, but instead to focus on student supports, by effectively utilizing support structures we have in place.”

Duran said SROs have been performing some tasks “that should be something we focus on having APS staff provide, especially since SRO perform a lot of duties in schools that are outside their law enforcement duties.”

The superintendent said he wanted to ensure students and families that schools will be safe and secure, since the school system will be in close contact with police, “for any internal or external threats that may arise, and that require police support and presence in the schools.”

In addition, Duran said it would be important to develop a standardized training program for school staff and administrators: “To reinforce how to effectively intervene in incidents, as school administrators, and when, appropriately to call on SROs, as needed.”

Historically, students of color have been referred to law enforcement more often than white students.

Duran called for “a transparent mechanism for how we collect and share our data regarding law enforcement engagement in schools, and report that progress annually to our community.”

He also recommended creating a community group to annually review and provide input on the school system’s referrals to law enforcement.

The school board is expected to vote at its next scheduled meeting — June 24 — whether to accept Duran and the work group’s recommendations.

With less of a police presence in school buildings, Duran said students will likely require additional social and emotional support, “to address student behavioral issues, in a systemic way and a supportive way.”

He says the school system has invested in creating a position to utilize restorative justice practices.

“That’s really important as we think about do we transition the focus of discipline to punishment to making amends, and restoring the school community,” Duran said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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