DATE: June 11, 2020
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
School Board Chair, Superintendent Issue Joint Statement on Presence of School Resource Officers in Schools
(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Jonno Alcaro, Chair of the Albemarle County School Board, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Haas have issued a joint statement on the presence of School Resource Officers in county schools. The statement says:
In the last few days, we have received feedback from concerned citizens about the issue of School Resource Officers (SROs) in Albemarle County public school buildings. We have read every letter and email and are sensitive to the concerns of our students, parents, and community members on this topic.
The SRO program will be discussed as a non-agenda item during this evening’s School Board meeting, with follow-up discussions in Board meetings over the next two weeks. A thorough, independent review of the program may be formally requested by the School Board during this timeframe. We will then dedicate a School Board work session to an evaluation of the SRO program to determine what further steps may need to be taken.
Our School Board Attorney has been working with the Albemarle County Police Department to draft an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that more clearly defines the role of SROs in our schools. It improves accountability measures and requires regular reports from the Chief of Police to the School Board on SRO activities and interactions with students and staff. We expect this revised agreement to be on School Board meeting agendas for discussion and subsequent approval in the near future.
An important purpose of the revised MOU is to define the role of an SRO as primarily instructive and educational, as opposed to such traditional deterrent measures as being in full uniform. It will commit the police department to SRO training that emphasizes mental health and crisis intervention support; disability awareness; implicit bias/racial bias attitudes and stereotypes; restorative justice; and cultural competency. The latter training will be provided by the school division, consistent with our anti-racism policy.
Board members and our broader community are deeply concerned about reports of aberrant police behavior in Minnesota and in other parts of our country. We believe these activities do not reflect what has been reported or experienced by staff or students in our schools. It is worth noting that no complaint about SROs has been filed with the school division in more than a decade.
Police are not involved in school discipline decisions. In fact, SROs are prohibited from engaging with students on rule violations, and the police department insists that a part of every SRO’s performance review is the development of positive relationships with staff and students.
Currently, five SROs are assigned to our schools. They are vital contributors to our ability to keep students and staff safe. Officers are available to support public safety needs at any of our 25 schools upon our request. In the annual survey of high school students conducted for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, most students said the presence of an SRO made them feel safer in school.
Examples of how our collaborative working relationship with the department protects students and staff include the national training they receive on improving the security of schools. Their recommendations have made our buildings safer. They respond within minutes when there are reports of intruders on school grounds. Their familiarity with the interior of our schools and with our school division allows them to complete investigations swiftly and fairly when there are social media or bomb threats made against a school or its students.
National demonstrations rightly have focused the attentions of states, cities, counties, and school divisions on the performance of police departments and the relationships of police officers with communities, and especially among people of color. This will be a major focus of the independent evaluation of our SRO program and of our work session.
Albemarle County’s Chief of Police, Ron L. Lantz, said last week, “As Chief, I take seriously the responsibility to ensure that our department protects and serves each person in our community … I’m proud of the work that has been done with our Citizen Advisory Council and in community events and partnership programs over the past several years to build trusting relationships with the people we serve.”
We applaud these sentiments while recognizing our responsibility to continually review and monitor the department’s relationship with our school division. If it is to endure, this relationship must ensure that it makes students, staff, and building visitors safer, healthier, and more secure. It must only go forward with the confidence that our high-performance standards and our school division values of excellence, young people, community, and respect are being faithfully met.