School Resource Officers are a divisive element in discussions around making schools a safer and more inclusive environment for students of color.
“SROs are essentially unnecessary considering their impact on the Yorktown community,” says Yasmina Mansour, a junior at Yorktown High School.
SROs are defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools.” The program began officially in Virginia Public Schools in the mid-1980s, although SROs were in some Arlington schools as early as 1969. Supporters of SROs argue that they are important to keep students and staff safe and can introduce a positive example of police. Opponents say that SROs reinforce a school to prison pipeline, and their duties could be replaced by other staff members.
In July of 2020, the Arlington Branch of the NAACP voted “in favor of the removal of removing School Resource Officers from Arlington Public Schools. … We made this decision after nearly a year of data-driven research led by our Education Committee with input from our Criminal Justice and Political Action Committees. The data shows stark disparities in the percentage of Black and Latino juveniles arrested and sentenced to detention relative to their population in the county.”
Arlington’s Yorktown High School has been without an SRO for the past year while students participated in hybrid learning during the pandemic. Several students and staff from Yorktown responded to questions about SROs.
“My experience with working alongside SROs in school districts over the years,” said Tee Newton, one of the staff sponsors of the Sister Circle Club at Yorktown High School, “has led me to believe that their presence in schools helps to create a trusting alliance between the force and youth, a safe learning environment for students and staff, a strong sense community between residents and the police assigned to the neighborhood, and decreases feelings of alienation that certain students of color may feel when cops show up in their community, outside of school. I believe the ongoing larger issues of institutional racism with police isn’t so much stemming from the roles of SROs but the police assigned to the streets.”
Lillian Beall, a senior at Yorktown said: “I think they should be around just in case something bad happens. But I definitely think they need more training.”
Like Beall, many parents believe SROs are in school to assist with lockdown procedures in case of a school shooting incident. In fact, SROs were in schools more than a decade before the Columbine shooting. While they do assist with lockdown training, Arlington Police noted a statistic indicating only 12 percent of attacks were ended by SROs, while 22 percent of attacks were ended by an adult in the school who was not a police officer. SROs may contribute to a reduction in weapons being carried into school, school fights, gang activity, and hate speech or bullying.
Brenna Hardy, a senior at Yorktown said, “I heard the SRO has a gun on them. I think a gun can be intimidating and very threatening to the students.”
Simi Lawal, a senior at Yorktown said, “SROs are not necessary for ensuring the safety of students and teachers in the school building. More students of color tend to have negative connotations when it comes to SROs meaning they don’t feel as safe or feel welcomed because they know they run a higher risk of being arrested. Something I would change with SROs in schools is not having possession of any weapons, especially deadly weapons.”
Yasmina Mansour, a junior at Yorktown said, “In the past few years, their role has become redundant and conflated with that of the school psychologist to an extent. Not to mention students of color are exponentially more likely to face consequences at the hands of an SRO versus a white student. In the coming years, the best course of action would be the elimination of the position altogether.”
Athena Perry, a senior at Yorktown said, I don’t believe that SROs are necessary. They don’t benefit the students nor make us feel safer. They are there to be used against us.”
This year, the Arlington School Board put together a working group made up of students, staff, and community members to form a proposal for recommended changes to the SRO structure. This month, they presented their conclusions to the school board. Their primary recommendations were to: “Revise the roles of ACPD in the schools to emphasize functions that can only be performed by law enforcement” and to “Ensure continued participation of ACPD members as coaches, mentors or in informal roles as appropriate for any member of the community to participate in the support of the development of APS students, without specific access or engagement because of a role as an SRO.” Their website with more information is https://www.apsva.us/engage/schoolresourceofficer/#SROCharge. Last week, the school board voted to accept the Superintendent’s recommendations to move SROs out of schools at least in part due to these recommendations.
Black Parents of Arlington called for the removal of SROs from schools, citing the negative effects of racial disparities. “The statistics on the detrimental effects of SROs on our Black and Brown students are staggering. For example, nationally, Black youth are nearly three times as likely to be arrested in school than white youth, even when charged with similar offenses,” said Black Parents of Arlington President Whytni H. Kernodle. “Arlington is no exception to these extreme disparities: In Arlington Public Schools, 28% of students are Hispanic but make up 41% of all referrals to law enforcement. Meanwhile, 11% of students are Black but make up 25% of all referrals to law enforcement. The presence of police in Arlington Public Schools criminalizes student behavior and targets our most marginalized students.
“Systemic racism must be dismantled and destroyed in all of its permutations,” said Kernodle in a statement. “It’s time for APS to create an environment where all students can learn without fear and intimidation. … We know that simply reimagining the role of SROs will not eliminate the blatant discrepancies in discipline between Black and Brown children and their white counterparts. We call on every member of the School Board to be a steward of justice for our children and follow the lead of the Superintendent on this.”
Members of the Arlington community have their voices heard, and last week the School Board voted to follow the recommendations of the Superintendent and remove police from schools, while retaining a relationship with Arlington County Police.
Hannah Knittig recently graduated from Yorktown High School, and completed her senior internship at the Arlington Connection.
SROs Will No Longer Be in Arlington Schools
The Arlington School Board approved the Superintendent’s recommendations at its June 24 meeting. SROs will no longer have a daily presence in schools and Arlington Public Schools will work to redefine its relationship with the Arlington County Police Department to ensure continued school safety.
APS will continue its longstanding relationship with ACPD.
APS and ACPD will collaborate to determine the best method of providing law-enforcement services to schools, but officers will not be located in school buildings.
In the event of an emergency or for law-enforcement needs, ACPD will provide police services as needed.
The services of SROs will be reimagined to meet the needs of students, staff, and the APS community.
ACPD will continue to provide training to students and staff as needed to implement the recommendations of the SRO Work Group.
The name of the SRO program will be changed to reflect the new support role they will be providing to students and staff. (e.g. Juvenile Response Group or Youth Resource Officer).
APS will explore the creation of a community advisory group to annually review and provide input on the relationship and establish a regular, transparent mechanism for collecting data regarding law-enforcement engagement in schools and reporting progress toward the agreed upon goals annually.
The Superintendent’s recommendations that were presented to the School Board are available online https://www.apsva.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Superintendent-SRO-Recommendations-FINAL-for-ACTION.pdf
The Superintendent’s full recommendations report is also posted online https://www.apsva.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Supt-SRO-Report-Recommendations.pdf
Polling taken from Arlington County Board SRO Work Group
When Arlington students were asked
- “How many times have you interacted with your SRO?”
51.1% said 0 times, 33.9% said 1-2 times, and the remaining 15% have interacted more than 3 times.
- “Do you know the name of the SRO at the school you currently go to?”
79.1% no and 20.9% said yes.
- “Do you think SRO’s should be armed?”
31.9% said yes, 24.8% said no, and 43.4% said maybe.
- “Do you think SROs have a role to play in the future?”
50.5% said yes, 35.4% said maybe, and 15.1% said no.