To keep or not to keep,?
That is the question schools across the country are facing about their school resource officer program and the Historic Triangle is no different.
Are school resource officers actually needed or do they do a disservice to the students they are supposed to help?
According to the 2019 Virginia School and Division Safety Survey from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, 94 percent of schools in Virginia had an SRO.
Lisa Ownby, chairwoman of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board said she feels school resource officers are an important part of the school community and they are a great resource for students.
“Those officer’s job is to connect with our students, and to serve as role models and mentors, she wrote in an email.
She added many of the school resources officers are actually alumni and if there is an incident, SROs can meet with the student as opposed to the police department.
Owny said the board has not received any correspondence pushing for removal of school resource officers, or the insistence they stay on.
“I have seen request by advocates in the community to remove them,” she said on Monday, adding she saw them via social media.
Owby, who has two children at Lafayette High School, has firsthand experience dealing with the SROs. In fact, her son now 22, attended Toano Middle School and the previous SRO knew every student by name.
“I know our SROs and I’m afraid people in our community who said to get rid of them, they just don’t know what it looks like in our schools,” she said.
School resource officers are required to undergo additional training with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice before becoming an SRO.
The five-day training course covers a wide range of topics, from partner roles, legal issues, working with adolescents and various strategies for success, according to the VDCJ website.
Two of the five days includes diversity and implicit bias, adolescent brain development, communication, de-escalation, mentoring, youth and trauma, mental illness, suicide awareness and prevention, said James D. Christian, K-12 school safety and threat assessment manager for VDCJ, in an email.
During those two days, mental health and educational professionals with experience in understanding bias present to those going through training.
The department also formed the School-Law Enforcement Partnership curriculum in 2017 which comprised of stakeholders from a “broad cross-section of professionals” who work to vet the content of the SRO training course.
“The DCJS Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety works collaboratively with staff from the Virginia Department of Education to ensure SROs are provided the tools and training to support current best practices on diversity and inclusion, Virginia Tiered System of Supports, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and model policies addressed to meet the needs of students by keeping them in school and finding alternatives to suspension and expulsion,” Christian said.
He said school divisions are required have memorandums of understanding with law enforcement partners based off the DCJS model. The memorandums provide a model for the roles and responsibilities of an SRO, with a focus on relationship building and proactive support. It also makes it clear that SROs are not asked to handle school discipline matters.
York County School Division did not immediately respond for comment.
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