School Zone: Policing in schools at heart of budget talks in DC region

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

Policing in schools central to DC region budget talks

What it is: As jurisdictions across the D.C. region work in the coming weeks to finalize and vote on budgets for the next fiscal year, many are contemplating the role of police in public schools.

In D.C., the topic is central to a key disagreement between Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city council.

The School Resource Officer program was launched for officers to establish a rapport with students and work through conflicts that may present themselves at schools.

The council last year oversaw the creation of a Police Reform Commission, which recommended eliminating police officers from schools and replacing them with professionals in “positive youth development.”



In a letter to council chairman Phil Mendelson this week, Bowser wrote the gradual removal of officers from school doesn’t have the support of school principals, and that the officers help keep kids safe.

What it means: Under current plans included in last year’s D.C. budget, the school resource officer program is being rolled back in phases, with the program fully ending in 2025.

Advocates of the program, like Bowser, say the officers play an essential role in keeping students and faculty safe. Critics say the program isn’t working as intended.

Each D.C. Public School also has a security contractor in place, Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen told WTOP.

Big picture: In Montgomery County, Maryland, county officials last week heard about a proposed plan that would keep officers in schools with a more limited role.

And Alexandria, Virginia, school officials have moved forward with plans to appoint an advisory group to explore the future of the school system’s relationship with police.

Talking points: Ward 6 council member Charles Allen says the council “followed the recommendations that came from the Police Reform Commission, and from many other voices that came and advocated for a responsible strategic change.”

A final vote on D.C.’s budget is scheduled for May 24.

Edmund Burke students return to school after shooting

This week, students returned to the Edmund Burke School in Northwest D.C., more than a week after a sniper attack in their neighborhood.

We caught up with WTOP’s Nick Iannelli for the latest.

Q: Can you describe the scene as students returned to school for the first time after the shooting?

A: The day for the students started around 9 a.m. They all gathered in a big group with family members and teachers in a nearby athletic field for a ceremony where school officials spoke and thanked them for their resilience. D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee was there, among several other members of the police department.

After the ceremony, everyone walked down the road in an almost celebratory parade-like march to the front of the school and entered the building for the first time since they were terrorized by the shooting nearly two weeks ago in the Van Ness neighborhood.

Q: What do police know about the shooter?

A: D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee spoke to me at Edmund Burke School for a few minutes and said that he didn’t have any new information to release publicly in the investigation, but he claimed that the investigation was moving in the right direction and he was optimistic about where it was headed.

The shooter, Raymond Spencer, was 23-years-old and opened fire indiscriminately from the fifth-floor of an apartment building before killing himself as police closed in on him. His motive is unknown at this point and there were no letters or notes in the apartment that would explain it.

[Read Nick’s story about the return to classes on WTOP.com]

By the numbers
Here, we take a look at some data that caught my eye this week.

Resignations and retirements: The Montgomery County Education Association says that 787 county teachers have indicated plans to resign or retire at the end of the school year. That’s up from the 537 at this time last year.

In Virginia, many school systems give teachers until June to indicate whether they’ll return the following year.

[Read our story about teacher plans in Montgomery County on WTOP.com]

What Scott’s Reading

  • Arlington schools changes COVID-19 protocols [WTOP]
  • School board scuffle conviction dismissed for father of Loudoun Co. high school rape victim [WTOP]
  • These are books school systems don’t want you to read, and why [Washington Post]
  • MCEA rescinds endorsement of Brandy Brooks following sexual harassment allegations [Bethesda Beat]
  • Anne Arundel County schools agrees to pay $2.5 million in consent decree settling Bowen Levy lawsuit  [Capital Gazette
  • Frederick County’s first Black superintendent shares her plans for the school district [NBC Washington]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

Ice Cream Crawl: This weekend for a friend’s birthday, we’re joining an ice cream crawl, which is exactly what it sounds like. Think bar crawl, but with ice cream shops. Larry’s Homemade Ice Cream, Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, Here’s The Scoop and Everyday Sundae are among the stops planned.

Keep in touch: Have a school story idea we should know about? Send it to sgelman@wtop.com.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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