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School Board Approves Relocating SROs Off APS Grounds

Arlington School Board Chair Monique O’Grady during the June 24 meeting (via Arlington Public Schools)

The Arlington School Board voted during its meeting last night (Thursday) to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from school buildings.

As part of the vote, SROs — a unit of sworn officers within the Arlington County Police Department — will be moved off-site and will still provide services like driving and substance abuse education, as well as law enforcement support on an as-needed basis.

Officers will get a new title to reflect their new role, such as “youth resource officers,” Superintendent Francisco Durรกn told the board.

He told the board his recommendation to retain the relationship but relocate the officers is grounded inย recommendations made by an APS workgroup that was convened last year to examine the role of SROs after the Arlington branch of the NAACP called for their removal. The local NAACP cited disparities in juvenile arrests in Arlington, in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and the conversation nationwide about race and policing.

“I want to thank my colleagues for their support for moving this piece of historic leadership forward,” Board Chair Monique O’Grady said during the meeting.

Board Vice-Chair Barbara Kanninen commended O’Grady for her work bringing this to fruition.

“I especially want to make clear to the community that this was a priority for you as chair,” she said. “This was the one item, other than dealing with the pandemic, that you committed to, argued strongly for, and now we’re here.”

Over the next two months, Arlington Public Schools will be hammering out a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Arlington County Police Department to prepare for the start of school this fall, said APS Chief of Staff Brian Stockton.

“The last one took nine months this time we’re going to try and speed it up,” he said.

The decision comes nearly two months after a School Resource Officer helped to secure Wakefield High School in response to a call from a staff member, who alleged a student was making threats and had what was described as a bulletproof vest.

Funding for SROs, a total of $3 million, comes from Arlington County and is a gift to APS, Stockton said.

Some speakers argued for reinvesting the $3 million in mental health services.

Among them was rising Washington-Liberty High School junior Benjamin Portner, who told board members about his experience with SROs in elementary school and how still today, he carries “a great deal of nervousness when they pass me in the hall or even when they try to speak friendly manner.”

“Having them on and off-campus is a constant reminder to these students, and really all students, that the potential for violence remains in schools,” he said.

Board Member Cristina Diaz-Torres said she agreed with his sentiments and those of other speakers who asked for the $3 million to be reinvested in mental health services, but concluded that it is not a possibility at this time.

“[The vote] is a step forward, but it is certainly not the end of the journey: There is so much more that needs to be done,” she said. “We need to do to beef up the mental health resources for our students, so we can ensure that any student in crisis has the resources they need and they never have to interact with an SRO or the criminal-legal system at all.”

APS is the second district in the region to remove SROs from schools.

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