Look Beyond SROs for Safe Schools
I'm an Arlington parent who wrote this email in the midst of several student tragedies engulfing Arlington Public Schools a few weeks ago. 4PE encouraged me to improve it by expanding on my thoughts and citing resources. Please feel free to use language from it in your own advocacy. -AC
To: Superintendent Francisco Durán, Mary Kadera, Reid Goldstein, Cristina DiazTorres, David Priddy, Bethany Zecher Sutton
Cc: "school.board", Engage
Subject: SROs at APS
Date: Thursday, February 16, 2023 1:32 PM
Dr Durán and School Board Members:
I am increasingly becoming concerned about the rhetoric coming to Arlington regarding bringing School Resource Officers (SROs) back after the tragedies at Wakefield and surrounding schools. I ask that the work of the SRO Working group be preserved.
The SRO working group, as I understood it, was a balance of people who did and did not support SROs. Their recommendations reflected a thoughtful approach to police engagement in schools. It would be a shame to throw all of their work away because we finally experienced tragedy. In fact, from the outside looking in, it looks like both situations were decisively handled by school administration and ACPD.
I reviewed the 2022 MOU as well, and while I would have liked to see more language regarding restorative practices and how ACPD engages specifically in certain situations (e.g., restraint), I think for our community, I don't see the need to revert to armed police people in schools again. Working off site is fine.
I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what SROs actually do. They do not patrol hallways and bathrooms; and cannot get involved unless a crime has been committed. Their presence does not decrease the levels of drugs or crime in schools. And monitoring students during their free time at school can be easily accomplished by more staff anyway.
And what are "safe schools" anyway? A place where students are monitored constantly so that nothing bad ever happens (which we all know adults can’t control)... or a place where every student feels safe to attain a free and appropriate public education?
In the end, I do not want children criminalized for drug use. They need help and support, not a juvenile record. Your charge is to keep ALL students safe, including the ones who have generationally and systemically been traumatized by police presence in society. (E.g., Black students, the undocumented.)
In your next budget, a longer term solution would be to hire more staff to monitor and address student behavior, and provide mental health and substance abuse counseling; and family/community wraparound services. Fentanyl is a crisis... but not in the way that the media is portraying. Like meth before it, it's an absolute epidemic in resource poor communities, particularly in Hispanic/Latine and other second generation immigrant communities. Regionally, most overdoses are happening in high free and reduced lunch (FARM) schools.
All school violence has root causes in mental health, helplessness and “not being heard.” We do have trained staff who can address bullying, drug use, and making bad decisions. We just need more of them.
I am sad that the events took place, and I'm glad the community is mobilizing. And I'm glad you're listening. Thank you.
Thank you for listening.
En Español/ In Spanish
If you would like to hear another Virginia parent's perspective about the opioid crisis and SROs in schools, please click here.
Arlington County FY2023 Adopted Budget: Police Department (ACPD). See pages 239-241 for SRO FY2022 budget and how it was reallocated.
Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America. Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence. (2018, updated 2022).
Can Restorative Practices Help to Reduce Disparities in School Discipline Data? A Review of Literature. Stewart Kline, Dana M. (2016)
Mind the Gap: A Systematic Review of Research on Restorative Practices in Schools, School Psychology Review. Zakszeski, Brittany, and Laura Rutherford. (2021)
Protecting the Flock or Policing the Sheep? Differences in School Resource Officers’ Perceptions of Threats by School Racial Composition, Social Problems. Fisher, Higgins, Kupchik, Viano, Curran, Overstreet, Plumlee, Coffey. (2022)
School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Role of School Resource Officers (SRO). Excerpt from Research Anthology on Interventions in Student Behavior and Misconduct. Keenan, Sheri, and Jeffrey Rush. (2022)
The Thin Blue Line in Schools: New Evidence on School-Based Policing Across the U.S. By Sorensen, Acosta, Engberg, and Bushway, of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. (2021)
We Came to Learn: A Call to Action for Police-Free Schools. Advancement Project and the Alliance for Educational Justice.