The DMV is Reckoning with Police in Schools
By Emily Reed
Photo by Life Matters from Pexels
Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other unarmed black Americans, public declarations that “Black Lives Matter” and calls to “defund the police” have expanded beyond Instagram posts and Twitter hashtags. Serious calls for police reform have made their way into many sectors of public life, including education, and the Washington metropolitan area and its surrounding counties are no exception.
Over the past year, community members, legislators, and government officials in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have joined concerted efforts to remove police from schools. At both the state and district level, lawmakers have introduced legislation like the Maryland General Assembly’s Counselors Not Cops Act (CNCA), which would have transferred $10 million of school police funding to “school-based mental health services,” according to the General Assembly’s website. Despite strong advocacy on behalf of the bill, it was defeated in April of this year.
In local school districts like Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, D.C., and Alexandria, community efforts have seen mixed results. In February of this year, the Prince George’s County School Board voted to maintain the school resource officer program despite public controversy. Montgomery County did the same in 2020, but last month the county council changed its tune, approving County Executive Marc Elrich’s plan to remove SROs from schools, but continue to fund their presence in the neighborhoods surrounding school buildings. That same month, the Alexandria city council also voted to remove school resource officers from schools. Not all advocates in D.M.V. school districts have successfully advanced their agenda; just this month, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser faced backlash when she included funding for school police in the year's budget despite the city council-appointed Police Reform Commission’s recommendation that police be removed from D.C. schools beginning in the fall.
Most of the political momentum regarding school resource officers has included not only discussion of removal but replacement. Community leaders including legislators and students have spoken out in support of replacing police with counselors and other mental health professionals. Oftentimes, SROs do take on a counseling role, as security personnel and lead investigator Charles Hamlin stated in regards to his role in Prince George’s County public schools: “We have a dual role. Not only are we certified police officers, but we’re also counselors.” Despite this, community members continue to question whether or not law enforcement is beneficial when it comes to student wellbeing and safety. Kyson Taylor, a Montgomery County Public Schools student, told an interviewer that “[w]ith frequent police murders and abuse in the country… [it’s] hard knowing that ‘an emblem of a racist force’ was ‘watching me walk to school in a place where I’m supposed to feel safe.” Instead, community advocates like Jheanelle K. Wilkins, the sponsor of the now-defeated Counselors Not Cops Act, are emphasizing the need to ensure that “schools have mental health services, [and] incorporate trauma practices, restorative justice, [and] access to social workers.”
In recent years, we have been forced to confront whether or not police officers in schools are keeping students physically and emotionally safe, and whether continuing to police students in schools is worth the trauma it may cause. It is time for legislators and government officials to listen to community calls and take action to mitigate racial trauma in schools, which may include re-thinking the role of school resource officers and potentially removing them all together. The well-being of our students depends on addressing these tough issues in order to root out systemic injustice and improve the safety and quality of education in the United States.