Let’s talk about money. In this year’s budget report, Frederick County Public Schools shared that the county would spend $1.7 million to put police officers in schools through the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
A few other tidbits from that report: two new mental health professionals were hired, taking up $200,000 of the budget. Three new English learner teachers costs less than that. That is to say, FCPS could hire 12 more mental health professionals or 18 English learner teachers, raise salaries by 30 percent, and still not spend as much as is spent on SROs.
Clearly these officers in our schools must be doing an enormous service to our students if so much money is being spent to put them there, right? Nope. Research has shown the real effect of SROs: an unsafe, fruitless learning environment and increased discrimination for students of color, particularly Black students. Rather than lowering incidents of crime among youth, the presence of cops in schools increases the number of children roped into the juvenile system for having “bad behavior” (talking back, tantrums, being loud). If these students aren’t arrested, exclusionary measures are taken against them like detention.
This phenomenon (the school to prison pipeline) has grave effects on these children’s likelihood of achieving any social mobility, and disproportionately affects already marginalized groups. Because of the internal biases that everyone has, when students of color or otherwise marginalized students misbehave, educators and SRO’s are more likely to see a threat. Statistics show that Black children are far more likely than whites to be arrested in schools. Up to 40 percent of those sent to juvenile detention are LGBTQ+. These children are the most likely to be unsheltered and without resources, and we respond by criminalizing them?
Many are opening their eyes right now to the harms and violence of police, and we need to be thinking about what it means that this county is spending $1.7 million to put these people in schools, in care of children. 1.7 million dollars would be put to far better use if directed towards a myriad of different sources, from basic resources (hygiene and food), to educators’ salaries, to mental health resources, to restorative justice programming for the numerous sexual assaults that happen to students and go entirely unaddressed. The list goes on.