MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - Talk around removing School Resource Officers (SROs) from Montgomery County Public Schools just got serious on Tuesday after Councilmembers Will Jawando and Hans Reimer introduced a bill to do just that.
The two say this is an effort to end what’s known as the “school to prison pipeline,” arguing in Montgomery County over the past four years, almost half of all county student arrests were Black children, even though Black children only makes-up a fifth (22%) of the student population.
“A badge can be a barrier to reaching a lot of kids. So if we can invest in counselors, therapists coaches, other types of mentors, we’re going to get a lot more success,” said Councilmember Reimer.
Councilmember Jawando said, “The presence of the tool as a law enforcement officer, that’s what we need to eliminate. And so that’s what I would say. We’re still focused on keeping folks safe. But we just want to do it in a way that supports all students.”
Both county leaders introduced Bill 46-20 in a virtual news conference on Tuesday that also included a former and current student speaking about negative school and SRO interactions based on their ethnicity. An MCPS staffer and parent also spoke in support of the bill.
Jawando and Reimer say they want to reallocate the $3 million the county spends on MCPS’s SRO program, toward areas of restorative justice. This would include $406,000 for after-school student service hubs, $312,455 for recreational therapeutic group activities, and $750,000 for MCPS Staff restorative justice training.
It’s not clear how many new councilors or security guards would be hired. Reimer called it a “start” and said more money would be needed in the future.
There plenty of people who oppose the bill, including county principals who have spoken at previous county meetings.
“I don’t believe that’s a good idea. The recent shootings that’s been happening lately, wouldn’t necessarily –– we should have police officers in the schools so we can protect our children,” said Rockville parent, Gabby Gonzalez, on Tuesday.
FOX 5 should also point out in 2018, a School Resource Officer was celebrated for discovering that a student brought a loaded gun to a different high school shortly after the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“Yes, I think they have lots of benefits and there’s been lots of reported causes for concern and that’s why we’re having this conversation,” said MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith in a MCPS Board of Education meeting Monday when asked about the proposal.
The superintendent was charged with the review of the SRO program following the George Floyd protests over the summer. Smith is expected to release findings in January 2021.
Montgomery Council President Sidney Katz told FOX 5 in a statement, “At this time, I remain in opposition to making a decision to remove school resource officers from our schools. As I have stated before, I am committed to hearing from MCPS after they complete their examination of the SRO Program.”
FOX 5 did also speak with a member of the union representing Montgomery County’s police officers. FOP Lodge 35 Corporation Vice-President Lee Holland said over the phone, this is “Defunding the Police,” which the union is against. They do not feel this proposal will keep schools safe.
Holland also told FOX 5 Montgomery County’s School Resource Officers are sworn-in law enforcement members who patrol when they are not at the schools. Holland said eliminating the funding would remove 24 sworn law enforcement members from the payroll.
We’re told those officers could potentially be moved to other areas of the department, but then the department would be unable to hire recruits.
Councilmembers Jawando and Reimer say a public hearing on the bill is also expected in January. They hope to move forward with the plans for after school hubs in February.