Arlington, VA

The Arlington School Board is setting the stage for a process that would evaluate the Arlington County Police Department’s role in Arlington Public Schools.

The School Board heard an update from APS staff on the relationship between APS and ACPD’s School Resource Officers (SROs) last night.

The plan is to form a work group to evaluate how SROs have impacted APS since they entered schools in 1969, to listen to input from the community and the police department, and to ultimately provide a report to the School Board and Superintendent Francisco Durán with recommendations on ACPD’s operations in APS.

The proposed timeline has the group being formed throughout the fall, starting work in December and presenting a report by June 2021.

Since June 1, the School Board has received 265 messages from the public regarding the role of police in schools, according to a presentation given in the session. Attendees of the session said the concerns expressed in these messages, coupled with months of local and national calls for police reform, are what led to a work group being created.

“Due to our national narrative as well as much community input that we have received, we have decided it is time to evaluate and examine our partnership with ACPD and, specifically, to review our long-standing practice of School Resource Officers in our schools,” Durán said.

The group will have up to 48 members representing APS students, parents and staff as well as ACPD and relevant County advisory groups. Potential recommendations could range from making specific adjustments to APS’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ACPD, which sets parameters for SROs, to removing all SROs from schools and ending APS’s relationship with the police department.

Eliseo Pilco, lieutenant of ACPD’s SRO unit, said that under the current agreement officers provide a variety of services to schools. He said duties include educating students on subjects like substance abuse, providing security for sporting events and evening school meetings, and acting as threat assessment supervisors.

Pilco added that officers help make schools more secure and provide a trusted point of contact for reporting drugs, violence or threats in school.

APS’s presentation described a racial disproportionality in student suspension rates during the 2019-2020 school year.

Hispanic students make up 28% of all APS students, but they received 45% of all suspensions. Black students make up 10% of all students, but received 26% of all suspensions. White students make up 46% of students, and received 19% of all suspensions. APS served 779 suspension in the school year, and all school discipline is the responsibility of school administrators and teachers, the presentation noted.

The work group will prioritize community involvement, with the first public hearing expected to take place in January 2021, according to the presentation.

“It is imperative that we have this conversation as a community, that we’re able to ask questions about whether or not our children feel safer now with the new revelations that are being seen across the county,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said.

Approving the work group will be an action item in the School Board’s September 24 meeting and, if approved, applications to be a part of it set set to open October 9.

Image via Arlington County

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