Frederick County Board of Education members asked that data be collected on student perceptions of School Resource Officers (SROs) after an overview of the program was presented to them last week.
Some board members such as Liz Barrett and Karen Yoho seemed concerned that there were minimal student testimonies in the presentation.
“I think that’s pretty crucial information...I think it’s something we need to think about with everything that’s going on in the world,” Yoho said. “It does seem like the hard data might be helpful in understanding the student perception.”
An overview of the SRO program was presented to board members by Scott Blundell, supervisor of Security and Emergency Management for FCPS.
The program began in 1995 and has since grown to include the presence of officers in schools in every single feeder pattern.
The Frederick Police Department, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Brunswick Police Department all provide officers.
Blundell said the officers assigned to the program are chosen with care.
“They’re not just officers who don’t want to be on the streets anymore, officers who ... are looking for a change,” Blundell said. “These officers are carefully selected ... because of their personalities, their working capability and their ability to communicate with the public.”
There are currently five assigned officers and one supervisor from FPD; 13 deputies, two corporals, and one sergeant from the Sheriff’s Office, and one officer from the Brunswick Police Department.
According to Blundell, the goal of the program is to provide a uniformed presence inside school buildings, foster relationships between themselves, students, staff and the community, and aid in crime prevention.
The program began in 1995 but was greatly expanded in 2018 after the Maryland Safe to Learn Act mandated that each school system designate a school safety coordinator and provide law enforcement coverage in all schools.
Blundell said the SROs in Frederick County provide a wide array of support from physical security checks to participation in restorative practice circles and presentations in the classrooms.
Barrett asked how the program measures its own success rate.
Blundell pointed to arrest statistics that are submitted every year by local school systems to the Maryland State Department of Education.
“Frederick County is one of the lowest regarding arrests in our school buildings or involving our students so I would think being successful, you could look at those numbers,” Blundell said. “We could look at the fact that they’re building relationships with the students and the staff and they know these students by name.”
The most recent data related to arrests in public schools available on the state’s website is for the 2018-2019 school year. Frederick County ranked 20th out of 24 school systems, with only 40 arrests.
Anne Arundel and Washington counties had the highest number of arrests in public schools with 356 and 324 respectively.
Looking at a more specific breakdown of the Frederick County data, most of the arrests for the 2018-2019 school year were made at Brunswick High School and 60 percent of students arrested across the school system were white.
Despite the high number of arrests at Brunswick High, Mia Martinez, the student member of the board and a rising senior at Brunswick High, said she has seen students form close relationships with the school’s SRO.
Only one arrest made was an actual physical arrest – the remaining 39 were paper arrests where an officer initiated a referral or request for charges to the Department of Juvenile Services.
Most often, the reason for arrest was “Attack on Student” and 30 out of the 40 arrested students had a final outcome of returning to school.
Despite the most recent data showing that a majority of students arrested in FCPS are white, Barrett said she would like to see the data on how students perceive SROs and perhaps work with the Racial Equity Committee to address perceptions from students of color.
“Law enforcement officers in buildings, they certainly have done some tremendous things and they are good partners for the school system, but they may not make all students feel safe,” Barrett said. “Those are hard conversations and direct conversations that we need to have.”
The effect of SROs on students of color was recently brought up by an FCPS alum during a town hall event hosted by End Racism FCPS — an organization that is working to address equality and diversity issues present within the school system.
Jazmin Colón, a graduate of Urbana High School, said SROs are often seen as friendly because a majority of their interactions are with white students.
“At schools like West Frederick Middle, many students silently feared the SROs because as a person of color, in the back of your head you always know that an outburst will not be handled like an outburst from a white peer,” Colón said.
Barrett asked is SROs participate in FCPS training on implicit bias and cultural proficiency.
Lt. Mike Easterday, commander of the SROs from the Sheriff’s Office, said his deputies go through their own training but not anything from FCPS.
Board members seemed to agree on administering a survey to assess the perception of the officers and program. Board member Michael Bunitsky said he would like parents and community members to be surveyed as well, not just students.
Any survey might not be developed or administered for some time, as School Superintendent Terry Alban pointed out that students will need to be back in buildings in order to take it.