PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — The Prince George's County school board is once again postponing a decision on whether to remove armed police officers from its schools, with a motion to remove school resource officers (SROs) failing Thursday evening.
The measure originally passed with the approval of the school board’s budget committee back in early June, but the plan quickly encountered opposition. The school board voted 8-6 to postpone discussion on the matter until Sept. 14.
But when PGCPS' agreements with all their contracted local police departments -- except for PGPD -- to supply SROs expired, the Board of Education had to decide whether to renew the police agreements to continue providing armed officers in county schools.
Now, the school board is delaying the discussion again until January 2021, voting in favor of the district sending out a survey to families and the CEO reporting back on their findings on January 8.
That delay had mixed reaction from board members.
“I feel like some of ya’ll are waiting for a blessing, either a blessing from the task force, a blessing from the county council, a blessing from the county executive," District 5 Board Member Raaheela Ahmed said to her colleagues.
Other members said their constituents had asked them for a chance to make their voices heard, which is what prompted them to vote on the resolution requesting the survey.
“Perhaps we need to look internally moreso than completely sever one of our county’s largest but...also troubling agencies," District 7 Representative K. Alexander Wallace said.
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.”
Some parents, like Sheila Griffiths, worry about the culture armed school resource officers create.
“The biggest problem I have is the children growing up seeing this as a norm, because I think that just directs them to the school and prison pipeline," Griffiths said.
Her eighth-grade son, Shelemiah, said he thinks SRO's have the potential to function in school -- but not as they are.
“The county could do a better job of training these officers so that we can be safe," Shelemiah Griffiths-Johnson said.
Alexis Nicole Branch, a former student now running for the Board of Education, believes police should be replaced by professional counselors.
However, Prince George’s County Board of Education has also heard from worried parents who support armed officers 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. Some board members propose replacing SROs with $5 million in new spending on social workers and counseling.
According to the Board, PGCPS does not pay for the officers. That money comes from the county or the departments themselves. So -- CEO Monica Goldson said that $5 million would require her to take funding from other departments or projects.
"With more school psychologists, more social workers connecting people to employment and to food, we think that we can solve a lot of these problems," PGCPS school board member David Murray said. "And if we keep doing the same thing, we will continue to perpetuate the school to prison pipeline."