MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Editor's Note: The video above originally aired on March 15.
Less than a year after Montgomery County Public Schools became the first Maryland jurisdiction to remove police officers from their buildings, the county is partially reversing course.
In a letter sent to the MCPS community Tuesday, the school district says it has signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Montgomery County's Police Department.
“The important social-emotional and mental health supports that we are putting in place along with this new agreement with our police partners is the right solution at this time,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa B. McKnight. “We believe that these officers will be dependable and valuable members of our school communities.”
There will, however, be several changes between previous policing programs and the new MOU, starting with a name change. Previously police at the schools were called School Resource Officers (SROs) but they will now be called Community Engagement Officers (CEOs).
The CEOs will also not be permanently stationed inside schools, but will have a designated work station and schools can make requests for police presence directly to CEOs, and the CEOs may be asked to attend certain school events. The CEOs will also be allowed direct contact with school staff and will be allowed to review security footage of critical incidents.
"While I still feel … we should not be policing our schools, I do believe we have to do something to ensure the safety of our kids," Councilmember Craig Rice, who had previously been in support of ending the SRO program, said during a Council meeting Tuesday. "And as I’ve looked at this MOU I feel as though it is a compromise. It is not perfect, as compromises usually are not. But the reality is if we are doing due diligence in terms of listening to every voice that we try to incorporate all of that together in terms of a message that says ‘all of you have been heard in terms of your priorities and we tried to do the best that we can to meet all of them.'"
According to MCPS, the role of CEOs will be to:
- Work with all schools in their assigned cluster.
- Participate in required MCPS professional development, including non-violent crisis intervention, and equity and culturally responsive engagement.
- Have a direct line of communication and contact with the school and coordinate assistance at major school events, such as athletic events, large dances or other activities.
The letter also noted that CEOs would not be asked to respond to routine school discipline incidents; disciplinary measures will be determined by the Student Code of Conduct instead.
“I just hope it works because all I want is for kids to be safe," Amy Dimichael, an MCPS parent said. "Magrauder, nobody thought that was going to happen and we could have used extra help there."
MCPS says it sought input from student and parent focus groups as well as community forums from December through March before making a decision. A series of "youth-police dialogues with MCPS and police representatives" from all 10 police districts in the county was also conducted.
"This MOU allows for our department and our law enforcement partners to further our community policing objectives within and beyond the MCPS community," MCPD Chief Marcus Jones said. "The Montgomery County Police Department is committed to the safety and security of all our MCPS staff, students and partners. This has been a genuine collaboration between all involved parties to listen to the needs of our community.”
The policy reversal on officers inside schools comes three months after a sophomore student was found shot inside a school bathroom at Col. Magruder High School in Derwood. As of mid-March, the student was still recovering from his injuries and celebrated his 16th birthday from a hospital bed.
"I want to know why the resource officers were taken out, and will they be put back into the schools," the teen's mother, Karen, questioned just days after the shooting. "In the event that [my son] wasn't the only target, I do think it would have helped to have SRO officers in the school."
Multiple high school student groups protested against bringing back the officers, citing county data that shows police officers disproportionately interacting with students of color on campus. Instead of having armed guards inside schools, opponents of the CEO plan said more mental health resources should be made available to students.
“Most people understand the police as authority figures that are there to deal with criminals and I believe it sends the wrong message to children and youth that they need to have the police around to show some level of power,” Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, an MCPS parent and Co-Director of Racial Justice NOW said.
According to data presented at an MCPS Board of Education meeting in late February, the district has seen an increase in cases of students bringing weapons to schools compared to the 2019 and 2020 school years. An MCPS spokesperson also said the district has seen an increase in physical violence since the return to in-person learning.
"These new guidelines are the right balance for us. Having a more direct and collaborative relationship with our police partners will be beneficial,” Magruder High Principal Leroy Evans said. “This connection in our schools will be something students and staff will see and we will derive a greater sense of security because of it.”