A letter heading to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam urges him to shift millions in the budget away from school resource officers.
The letter to Northam, signed by over a dozen organizations across Virginia, was authored by NAACP Fairfax President Sean Perryman and state Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax. It asks the governor to use the upcoming special session to take over $9 million away from SROs.
“It’s an opportunity for us to experience what the defunding or disappearance of the SRO program would be and perhaps rebuild it in a more effective way, or perhaps simply discontinue it,” said Kory, speaking first to WTOP.
Kory said she believes the current SRO program should end. “I think it’s important to understand that I believe the habit has been developed to ask an SRO to intervene in student discipline. That begins the downward spiral, the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.
“Children don’t need to be intimidated by an officer in uniform, sometimes with a weapon, when they are called into the principal’s office,” Kory added.
The letter claims that data from school systems and universities across the U.S. have seen as much as a 77% drop in student suspensions, disciplinary actions and arrests when implementing substantially limited SRO programs, such as in-school suspension. Waco, Texas, and Denver Public Schools were cited as success stories for their alternative methods.
“Since instituting this approach, discipline referrals of African-American students fell to a 10-year low, Latino student referrals dropped by nearly 75%, and referrals of white students also decreased,” the letter said.
Kory said she would like to see Virginia “take a timeout” from the SRO program and examine its effectiveness and the money spent on it.
Additionally, since school is not in session and will likely be in a reduced state in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter to Northam states that SROs are not currently necessary.
“Our schools have been closed for months and will not be completely open for months to come. SROs have had no place in our shuttered schools and likely will have no place in our gradual, partial reopening,” the letter said.
“Now is the time for a hiatus in the law enforcement presence in our schools and to make thoughtful changes for reintroducing or eliminating SROs in the future.”
Cutting the $4.7 million in the budget for school resource officers for each of the next two fiscal years in Virginia could provide more funding for services more vital to students, such as counseling, Kory said. The need for counseling may become more critical in upcoming months as children are dealing with the stresses of the pandemic.
“For years, Virginia has underfunded school counseling in general. The few counselors we have in K-12 are largely consumed with clerical work,” Kory said.
“Right now, school counselors need to be available for children. We are going through such a crisis every day that many children are going to need assistance and support when we begin to reopen our schools,” she added.
Northam is expected to call a special session in the next few months to address budget issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.