An update on “School Resource Officers in Schools Focus Groups” will be presented at the Howard County Board of Education meeting on October 22nd. This presentation will provide data and information from the three focus groups held by Howard County Public School System (conducted on October 5, October 13, and October 15).
In the document under “Quantitative Data Points” the following is noted about the three focus groups:
The first focus group was held on October 5, 2020, and consisted of students and families located in schools that have SROs. The second focus group was held on October 13, and consisted of HCPSS staff located in schools that have SROs, and the final focus group was held on October 15, and consisted of community stakeholders within Howard County.
- Students and Family: 56.7% support SROs | 16.9% oppose SROs | 26.4% have no position on SROs
- HCPSS Staff: 66.4% support SROs | 22.4% oppose SROs | 11.2% have no position on SROs
- Community Stakeholders: 42% support SROs | 25.9% oppose SROs | 32.1% have no position on SROs
Here is a summary of focus group findings provided in the document that will be presented to the Board of Education on the 22nd:
There were themes that surfaced based on the discussions around SROs in schools. One such theme centered on relationships. Of primary concern was that it appears that SROs have unequal relationships with students; there are some students who have a genuine relationship with SROs however, other students shared this is only true when similarities or similar interests are shared. Another thought on the relationship theme that rose out of the student discussion was that although SROs have the ability to form relationships, some participants felt that the SRO’s job was more centered on policing of students. As it relates to relationships, some HCPSS staff, community stakeholders, and families believe that SROs help to foster positive relationships between law enforcement and young people. Those who agree with this idea also felt this relationship building was important in establishing better relationships with law enforcement outside of the school setting. It should be noted that this was not universally shared. Others felt that it should not be the responsibility of schools and young people to build healthy relationships with law enforcement.
In addition to relationships, another theme to surface was the appearance that SROs are more for the protection of staff instead of the care/protection of students and that students of color are disproportionately affected by the presence of SROs. It is important to note here that participant opinions seemed to coincide with the type of relationship or experience one had with law enforcement in general, and/or with an SRO specifically. Many of those who have had positive experiences showed a tendency to have more of a favorable view toward SROs in schools, while those who had negative experiences with SROs, tended to express concerns with SROs.
Many of the adults in the focus group talked of the importance of having SROs for school safety. This was of primary importance to parents or guardians, and school staff. Those who agreed with the safety theme pointed to SROs being a part of the emergency plans for schools, and being available to deal with emergencies so that staff would not have to worry about those situations. During the student group, several students felt that SROs seem to focus more on students of color (particularly Black male students). This also rose up during both the staff and community focus groups. Additionally, it was highlighted that foreign-born students may experience SROs differently. It was pointed out during the community stakeholder focus group that some immigrant families who may not have documentation are fearful of SROs in the building; furthermore, students of immigrant families will tell their families to not attend events or conferences out of fear of coming in contact with the SRO. Also mentioned in the session was that some of our immigrant students come from countries with very negative experiences involving law enforcement, and the presence of SROs may be triggering for those students.
Another significant theme to surface through the focus groups was that the public needs more transparency and communication from HCPD and HCPSS about the role of the SRO, more data about arrests, and what proactive actions are being taken by both to prevent issues within schools and/or the community. In terms of transparency, the community stakeholders really want specific information about the type of training that SROs receive to better inform them on SROs ability to truly build relationships with students.
Universally, all groups pointed to the importance of school leadership when it comes to SROs in schools. Several community stakeholders pointed to administrators as the initiators of using SROs in schools. Several participants also indicated that SROs were only able to do what administrators allowed them to do. A theme rising out of the staff focus group and community stakeholder group was the need for school leadership to work with the HCPD to ensure any issues are resolved with the effectiveness and performance of the SROs.
The focus groups also provided suggestions or recommendations going forward for SROs.
If SROs remain:
- There needs to be more transparency around roles and responsibilities of SROs, how the program is being evaluated, and consequences for ineffective SROs. This information should be provided in multiple languages, and should not always be something that is read. Utilizing audio and video messaging would be beneficial.
- Share safety plans for each school with the community.
- Publish the SRO Code of Conduct.
- Change the climate and messaging around the SRO program to clearly articulate what they are doing.
- Address bias within the SRO program and law enforcement.
If SROs are removed, HCPSS should support students in a more holistic manner through:
- Increase support for peer to peer resolutions of conflicts.
- Provide restorative justice in all schools.
- Support food security and connect with resources.
- Connect families to substance abuse resources and interventions when needed
- Increase bullying prevention and make it safer for students to speak out
- Make sure all students are supported, even when parents cannot be involved because they are working multiple jobs, or for other reason
Next steps in this process:
- November 12, 2020: Howard County Virtual Town Hall on SROs in Schools
- November 19, 2020: BOE Meeting – BOE can begin having an open debate on the topic of police in schools. HCPSS and Howard County Government staff will be available to report on data collected from focus groups and town hall and answer any questions from BOE. Because this debate could happen over a series of meetings, it may be good to have newly elected board members present for this discussion as well to hear the report and/or debate by the current board.
- December 7, 2020: BOE Meeting – If BOE needs another meeting to continue public discussion.
- January 21, 2020: BOE Meeting – BOE to take an official action on police in HCPSS schools if so desired.
You can view the full document that will be presented to the Board of Education this week here: 10 22 2020 Update on SRO Focus Groups BR