2 Maryland counties debate role of school resource officers

Maryland school boards in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties examined the role of school resource officers Thursday amid recent scrutiny of police conduct nationwide.

Opposing viewpoints debated in Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Board of Education passed a resolution to consider abolishing the school system’s school resource officer (SRO) program.

The resolution called on Superintendent Jack Smith to provide demographic data on all arrests that have taken place on school grounds, or arrests connected to incidents that happened on school grounds over the past three years.

In light of national events regarding police conduct, the resolution states that “it is imperative that all of our students feel safe at school and are treated with dignity, respect and equality.”

The school board would need to consider if the change will be compliant with state law. In 2018, the Maryland Safe to Learn Act was passed, requiring school districts across the state to either assign an SRO to a school or to have “adequate law enforcement coverage.”

The program places police officers in Montgomery County schools to enhance school safety and improve relations with the community.

Supporters see the program as added security for schools, which gained focus after multiple school shootings across the country. Attention on the issue grew in 2012 after a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, left 26 people killed, including 20 elementary school children.

Opponents see the program as shifting what should be school discipline problems to the criminal justice system.

The resolution brings up the narrative of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” as a growing sentiment that African-American and Latino students and students with disabilities are often singled out for discipline that sometimes leads to arrests.

Nate Tinbite, the student member of the board, said the SRO program should be abolished.

“While I’ve had a good experience with my SRO for as long as I’ve been in school, I do know that this isn’t the same experience for many other black and brown kids,” said Tinbite, who is African American and graduating from Kennedy High School.

The Montgomery County Council debated expanding the program as recently as February. Council President Sidney Katz voiced his support for having police in schools.

“I think in general that people realize that school resource officers truly are an ‘Officer Friendly’ for our students,” Katz said.

Tinbite said instead of having police officers in schools, the school board should include programs that stress other strategies “like de-escalating situations, and installing restorative justice.”

“I don’t believe in having armed officers in our schools,” Tinbite said. “I think we need to invest in more of the social and mental health supports for our students.”

WTOP contacted the Montgomery County Police Department for comment.

Prince George’s Co. school board delays resource officers vote

The Prince George’s County Board of Education decided to postpone a vote to end a contract that keeps SROs in the county’s schools until September.

There was a heated conversation at the start of the meeting, as board members debated and, at times, became confused about what was under consideration.

The board was originally scheduled to vote on a proposal to end its relationship with Prince George’s County police to have SROs on school campuses.

“I’m lost,” said District 6 Board member Belinda Queen at one point.

“Everyone clear on what you’re voting on?” Board of Education Chairman Alvin Thornton asked during the early moments of the session.

“No,” Queen said.

Following a few rounds of voting and tense exchanges, including as to whether the lone student board member had a say, the board voted 8-6 to table the motion on school resource officers until the next meeting on Sept. 14.

The board was supposed to take up District 5 Board Member Raaheela Ahmed’s proposal, who believes the presence of SROs runs counterproductive to the missions of growth and learning in schools.

Before the vote, other opponents of the school resource officer system spoke out, arguing it targets African Americans.

“As we see every day in our work, the presence of SRO’s directly impact the school-to-prison pipeline, easily funneling black students into the criminal justice system,” said the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in a statement.

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has opposed ending the contract, stating the school system cannot afford to withdraw a single resource from students.

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