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Should Police Officers Be in Schools?

Schools around the country are debating the use of school resource officers. 

Do police officers in schools help ensure a safe learning environment, or do they promote racial bias? This question was raised at a Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education meeting in March. School officials, parents, and students in the Maryland county debated whether to continue the school resource officer (SRO) program. 

Since 2003, officers from the Montgomery County Department of Police have been assigned to middle and high schools so that if there’s an emergency or an attack, an SRO can quickly assist. However, in the wake of recent instances of police violence against people of color that have gained national attention, many parents and students in Montgomery County have raised doubts about the safety of the SRO program.

During the public meeting, Board of Education members reviewed video testimonials submitted by county residents. Of the 29 speakers, 24 were in favor of terminating the SRO program, while five supported its continuation. 

All nine students who testified at the meeting were against the SRO program, claiming that the presence of the officers does not promote a safer learning environment. “SROs overpolice students of color and overstep boundaries in order to do so,” Kelly Ji, a junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, said in her testimony.

Claire Gelillo, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School, agreed. Because of the program, she said, “the way students experience school at MCPS changes drastically based on race.”



Some residents did express support for the program. Debbie Orsak, the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) president at Walter Johnson High School, said that an officer stationed at the school had prevented a possible shooting. Orsak also noted that a student attending the school was inspired by an SRO to become a police officer. 

Jane Lehrman, a parent and the representative of the Poolesville, Maryland, school cluster, also supports keeping the SRO program. “[It’s] an important tool in Poolesville,” she said. “SROs make a positive change in their community.”

People on both sides of the debate agreed on the need for more counselors to help students cope with mental health issues that arose during the coronavirus pandemic. For many students, remote learning has been difficult, as has the lack of social interactions with friends. More mental health specialists will be needed to address students’ concerns as they adapt to the return to in-person learning.

As for the debate on the SRO program, it has been settled temporarily. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has announced that the program will not be funded for the 2021-’22 school year. However, discussions about a possible role for police officers in schools will continue as residents decide how best to ensure student safety. 



Photo courtesy of Scholastic Kids Press