Here is a letter sent (dated October 7th) to HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Martirano and Members of the Board of Education by the Howard County Administrators Association about school resource officers (SRO’s) in schools:
Dear Dr. Martirano and Members of the Board of Education,
We are writing today to support the school system’s partnership with the Howard County Police Department and the use of school resource officers (SRO’s) in schools. As the organization representing school-based administrators including principals, assistant principals, and leadership interns, we feel it is important to formally communicate our position on this issue given the simple and critical fact that we play an active role in working with SROs on a daily basis to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff.
Before we share both the reasons for supporting SROs in schools and our suggestions for improving the program, we want to acknowledge that the support for SROs in schools is not unanimous among our membership. Following the motion at the September 10th Board of Education meeting to remove SROs from schools, the HCAA Executive Board surveyed our members to determine if we should write a letter of support. Eighty-two percent of the respondents voted ‘yes’ with eighteen percent voting ‘no.’ We also want to make it clear that our support of SROs in schools does not equate to a denial or rejection of the concerns our students and community have about the potentially negative impact of SROs in schools or the disproportionate suspension/arrest data for black and Hispanic students. These concerns are very real and must be addressed as we work to realize the goal of truly safe, equitable, and inclusive schools.
Our administrators have extensive experience working with SROs with many of our members having been in their roles since the inception of the program. Based on these experiences, they shared insights into why SROs are an important part of the culture of our schools. Some of the most frequently cited reasons include:
- Teachers and administrators are not trained in the same manner as SRO`s to deal with crises such as multi-person fights, drugs in school, possession of weapons, or active assailant situations. We require their expertise to bring quick resolution to these incidents.
- Because they have developed relationships with students, SROs are skilled in handling situations where patrol officers have a tendency to exacerbate the issue thereby compounding the problems. In many cases, SROs are able to prevent incidents from happening when students come to them ahead of time with concerns.
- When an emergency situation at a school requires support from the police or fire department, the SRO is able to make that call directly and expedite the response time to the school.
- In many schools, SROs actively mentor students during flex time and participate in restorative circles in the school and/or community. The proactive, preventative, relationship-based approach is what is most successful to their work.
Although the HCAA Executive Board supports SROs in schools, we would like to share several suggestions for improvement. We hope that HCPSS and the Board of Education will consider exploring the following recommendations rather than dismiss this critical asset out of hand:
- Principal involvement in the selection of SROs : The partnership between the SRO and administration is vital to successfully responding to student concerns. HCPD has improved the hiring process for SROs and it can be further improved by ensuring that the HCPSS perspective is included in selecting an SRO for a school. ‘The right fit’ is essential to the success of the program.
- Increase the diversity of workforce : In the same way HCPSS has worked to ensure that our workforce reflects the demographics of our schools, so too should HCPD work to ensure SROs are representative of the communities they serve.
- Continue training in restorative practices and implicit bias : Prior to the school closures in March, HCPSS and HCPD had begun joint training sessions to provide opportunities for principals and SROs to discuss best practices in addressing safety issues and response to violations of the code of conduct that require police involvement. These sessions should continue and a renewed focus on equity and anti-racism must be incorporated into the training that SROs and principals attend together. We submit that this virtual environment is a great opportunity for this training to occur.
- Ensure SROs are highly visible and involved in the school community : SROs are most successful when they build relationships with the students and staff they work with. HCPSS and HCPD must ensure that SROs are highly visible in schools and at school events. They should be involved in classroom presentations and serve on school-related committees as appropriate. The SRO program embodies major tenants of Community Policing: foster trust, align policies with community values, prioritize community engagement, and investment in training. We should capitalize on those concepts and expectations in the best interest of our students.
Ultimately. we need to be clear about the role and purpose uniformed officers serve in our school communities. If we, as a school system, cannot help build bridges between our officers and the school community, then who will do this important work? We have an opportunity to address the very real community concerns and support the growth of vital relationships between law enforcement and students, staff, and the community at large. We have attached the recent position statement from the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) because it is indicative of the overarching thinking on this issue on a National level. Further, the recommendations included for district leaders and school leaders are a great starting point for discussions on how to improve our partnership with HCPD while continuing to proactively protect our most precious stakeholders: our students. We will definitely be involved in the feedback opportunities HCPSS has established for this issue. Please feel free to contact us if you have any specific questions or concerns. Thanks.
The HCAA Executive Board
You can view the PDF version of the letter HERE