Montgomery County Public School Community Engagement Officers
In August of 2021, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) opened without School Resource Officers (SROs) for the first time in 19 years. SROs had been armed police officers assigned to work and patrol inside MCPS schools. This decision was championed by activists across the county working on SROs’ removal for years. After calls for a lightened form of school security provided by police officers, MCPS created a replacement for SROs called Community Engagement Officers (CEOs) who patrolled the areas surrounding schools but were not intended to enter schools. On April 4th, MCPS changed this policy (now known as CEO 2.0), when a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was issued. Under the new MOU, CEOs are further implemented in middle and high schools. The newly implemented CEO 2.0 policy promotes the inclusion of police in schools, which is severely detrimental to a safe and conducive learning environment.
In order to understand the opposition to this policy, it is necessary to review the reasoning surrounding students’ opposition to the original SRO model. Primarily, many disparities were seen in student arrest data. While African-American students made up only 34.6% of Maryland schools’ population, they accounted for 66% of 2015-2016 school-related arrests. Furthermore, Maryland students with disabilities were 2.45 times more likely to be arrested than students without disabilities. Not only are the aforementioned arrest disparities limited to Maryland, but they are seen across the country. Nationally, Native American and Pacific Island students were arrested more than twice as many as white students. African American students were three times as likely to be arrested, and Latinx students were 1.3 times as likely. In 2015-2016, referrals to law enforcement for disabled, African American, and Native American students were all above 85 per 10,000 students (over twice as many as white students). Additionally, research by the American Civil Liberties Union outlines that many school arrests by SROs arose from common adolescent behaviors rather than major infractions. Undoubtedly, the presence of SROs in schools fuels the school-to-prison pipeline and disproportionately exposes students of color/disabled students to the juvenile justice system. An SRO presence may also cause students to feel unsafe in their schools due to that police officer being armed. Conjointly, after the implementation of SROs in schools, violence between students has been shown to increase. Research based on data gathered in the School Survey on Crime and Safety found a correlation between a police presence in schools and increased violent crimes. Moreover, SROs have not adequately responded to major school incidents and therefore often contradict their reasoning for being in schools. Thus, SROs are not seen as a positive addition to school environments.
As aforementioned, CEOs were seen as a replacement for the SRO program that MCPS had in place. These armed officers were designed to interact with the communities surrounding schools and were not permitted to enter schools unless a school service call* was initiated. With CEOs staying outside of schools, there was nearly no chance that a student was referred to law enforcement for a minimal infraction, and many students felt more comfortable in their schools.
With the CEO 2.0 program, which passed on April 4th of 2022, CEOs retain an office within each school designated to their area of patrol. Additionally, they may participate in school-based events; some of which being “assemblies, study circles, and other staff/student events” (MOU). By having broad wording such as “other staff/student events,” the MOU does not explicitly prevent CEOs from being involved in many day-to-day school activities. This lack of sufficient and concrete wording provides no protection from CEOs adopting many roles which SROs carried. Despite CEOs still being intended to respond solely to school service calls, their attendance at such school events may inherently involve them in disciplinary activities unrelated to their original designations. This could include responding as an officer of the law to a misdemeanor occurring at a school event (which would have otherwise been dealt with by security or administration). Thereby, as CEOs are not truly staying outside of schools, the officers do not have any major differences from SROs. This indistinction may refuel the school-to-prison pipeline and increase disparities surrounding disciplinary actions. Moreover, the simple presence of a CEO at any school event (or in schools) is unsubstantiated. With school security involved in nearly every school event, having an armed officer is unnecessary. This is due to the fact that there is no concrete evidence that armed officers reduce violent crime in school settings. Additionally, officers may make students uncomfortable and criminalize common adolescent behavior such as cursing (penalized as disorderly conduct). Due to the lack of regulations surrounding CEOs, MCPS has in essence re-implemented SROs into middle and high schools across the county.
The redaction of the recent MOU passed by MCPS and subsequent removal of CEOs from middle and high schools is imperative. At the very least, it is indispensable that MCPS rewrites the MOU to ensure that CEOs do not have any interactions with any school-related activities. If this does not occur, students will lose their safe learning environments and possibly see a rise in juvenile justice system referrals. Rather than funding its CEO program, MCPS should re-allocate those funds to hire more mental health professionals for its schools and increase the psychologist-to-student ratio. By removing CEOs from schools, MCPS can continue to lead the country with its educational policies and create safe school environments for every student.
* School Service Calls occur in the event of a major incident involving students on MCPS property.
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Written by Educational Policy Department
Published by PR Department