UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — A long-simmering debate about police in schools is coming to a boiling point in Prince George’s County, as the Board of Education prepares to address the issue Thursday.
Agreements with local police departments -- called memorandums of understanding -- that supply 33 school resource officers in schools have expired. Now, the BOE has to decide whether to renew agreements with the Prince George's County Police, Greenbelt Police, Bowie Police and Hyattsville Police to continue having officers in county schools.
According to Maryland's Department of Education, police in Prince George’s County Public Schools arrested 350 kids in the 2017-2018 school year, which was more than all but one other school system in the state.
Critics who posted recent protests to social media said it amounts to criminalizing the behavior of Black boys in particular.
“Black students bear the burden of the over-policing of our schools," the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in Prince Georges County said. "In a school district that is 55% Black, 301 of the school-based arrests in the 2017-2018 school year, or 86%, were of Black students.”
Alexis Nicole Branch, a former student now running for the Board of Education, believes police should be replaced by professional counselors.
“When I walked through the doors [at Gwynn Park High School] for the first time, I was greeted by police officers with bulletproof vests and guns on their hips," Branch said. "I said 'oh my goodness, I'm walking into a warzone.' I was terrified. Anytime I wanted to see a counselor, there weren't very many counselors available to speak to me. It was just not enough resources for me as a student and I want to change that.”
However, the Prince George’s County Board of Education has also heard from a lot of worried parents who support police in schools.
“The next time there is a mass shooting, these same school board members will jump to another bandwagon to have more protection in our schools," wrote Pastors James and Marcia Robinson in comments to the Board of Education.
In Maryland, the 2018 "Safe to Learn Act" requires schools to provide “adequate” police coverage of schools.
Branch and other advocates of eliminating School Resource Officers said police can protect schools without a program that puts officers inside.
Board of Education member David Murray advocates eliminating SROs, but has proposed that the school system needs to replace them with $5 million in new spending on social workers and counseling.
The Board's Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee on Monday recommended that the board delay action on renewing the memorandums of understanding to with local police departments until October so that the school system administration can further study that issue and make its own recommendation.