by Marianne Burke
For several years, organizations in Virginia have worked to restrict School Resource Officers (SROs) from getting involved in disciplinary matters. For example, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Fairfax County Police Department and the Fairfax County Public School System (July 23, 2018) restricted officers from getting involved in non-safety matters, mandated crisis intervention training and disability awareness training, required SROs to read students their rights prior to questioning in relation to a crime, and required them to alert parents prior to students being searched or questioned.
Unfortunately, the MOU has not had its intended effect. Recently released data show that little progress has been made in reducing the school-to-prison pipeline in Virginia. In response, letters by community organizations to the Fairfax County Public School Board, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Governor Northam have renewed focus on limiting the role of the police in Virginia public schools.
In a July 6, 2020 letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board, the NOVA Equity Agenda Coalition (NOVA EAC) reported that the police in schools have not followed the MOU, that Fairfax County Public Schools continue to feed the school-to-prison pipeline, and that Black and Latino students are arrested at school at disproportionately higher rates. Kofi Annan, Chairman of the NOVA Equity Agenda Coalition, said “Black and brown children need meaningful solutions now more than ever, and the community has spoken loudly and clearly that more police should not be part of the solution.” Twenty-nine other community organizations also signed the NOVA EAC letter. Delegate Kaye Kory, (38th District of Virginia) reminded us that “State Code requires the SRO MOU’s to be reviewed every two years w/ public input, i.e. at a public meeting. It’s time for a review.”
A July 7, 2020 letter to Governor Northam from Delegate Kory and Sean Perryman, the President of the Fairfax County NAACP, reported that many Virginians support a nationwide call to rethink, suspend, or eliminate the SRO program. They requested repurposing the SRO funding to provide counselors instead of SROs. The suggested repurposing would be done in the new state budget, HB30, where Budget Item 406 F1 has a total of $9.4 million for SRO’s for the biennium from the General Fund for the School Resource Officer Incentive Grants Fund. They recommended that the money should be used to increase the improved, but still inadequate, school counselors staffing ratio in the school budget. The budget will be considered during the August special session of the Virginia General Assembly. Nineteen community organizations also signed the letter to Governor Northam.