KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:
SCHOOL POLICING: ADVOCACY RESOURCES
We believe, and evidence has shown, that exclusionary school discipline such as suspension and expulsion is not an effective way to help our youth. Young people who experience school suspension and expulsion are more likely to experience academic failure, drop out of school, have substance abuse challenges, have mental health needs, and become involved in the justice system. As we wrote in our 2018 report on school suspensions in Virginia, children and youth who are disconnected and isolated from academic, social, and community environments have a much harder time in the school system.
Policing our schools also leads to worse outcomes for our young people by excluding them from educational opportunities and pushing many of them into the criminal legal system, which can permanently affect their lives. There is no accepted research or evidence that police in schools increase school safety—and many students, particularly students who are Black, Latino, and Indigenous, share that the presence of police makes them feel less safe at school. We must broaden our understanding of school safety and begin to envision vibrant schools that are welcoming, safe, and healthy for all students and educators and include adequate staffing and robust mental health support.
We advocate against policing in schools and in favor of school discipline practices that are restorative and/or transformative, and that can help improve student behavior issues permanently with compassion and without criminalizing or excluding anyone.
Here are two reports we have released on the subject:
- Decriminalizing Childhood: Ending School-Based Arrest for Disorderly Conduct (2019)
- This report shows how Virginia’s school system is charging Black students, and Black girls at an accelerating rate, with disorderly conduct—a vague, catch-all law that criminalizes low-level public disruption that does not rise to the level of physical harm, property damage, or even threat—unequally compared to their white counterparts. The authors call for the repeal of the school-based portion of the statute, preventing students from unneeded involvement is the criminal legal system.
- In 2020, The Youth Justice Program worked with legislators to repeal the Disorderly Conduct Statue for students, ending this specific practice that resulted in the overcriminalization of students. More information about the bill and subsequent law change can be found here.
- Investing in Student Safety and Success: The Growing Importance of Effective Staffing in Virginia Schools (2018)
- This 2018 report from the Legal Aid Justice Center and The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis details the decreases in K-12 school staffing and increases in student enrollment that have left school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses with increased caseloads and administrative responsibilities and less time for direct student support. These positions play essential roles in meeting student mental health needs, keeping all students safe and engaged, and helping students achieve academic and career success.
Here are some resources and information for anyone doing local advocacy around school policing:
How to Learn More about School Policing and School Resource Officers (SROs) in Your Community
Publicly accessible information about School Resource Officers and School Security Officers, detailed below and in our sample FOIA request, may be kept in several different locations within several different agencies, making it difficult to gather the full picture of a local community’s use of law enforcement in schools:
- Some information may be kept by a local school or school division.
- Some information may be kept by a local law enforcement/police agency.
- Some information (especially budgets) may be kept by a city manager, city council, or board of supervisors.
- Some information may be kept by the Court Service Unit (CSU), which is the juvenile court intake office that serves your community.
- Most CSUs are governed by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, so some information may be held by that state agency.
- Still further, School Resource Officers are trained and certified by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, so some information may be kept by that agency.
This document outlines preliminary investigation strategies and questions for community members to learn more about the relationship between police and schools in their localities.
School Resource Officers in the Schools: the Basics
Does my school division use SROs or SSOs? This information should be publicly available and can be requested via FOIA (see sample FOIA document).
School Resource Officers are certified law enforcement officers hired by the local law enforcement agency to provide law enforcement and security in Virginia public elementary and secondary schools and have the authority to make arrests. A memorandum of understanding ( MOU) between the school division and the law enforcement agency are required for SROS to determine the powers and duties of the law enforcement officer. School Boards are required by state law to publish their current MOU with law enforcement.
Sample questions to ask of your school division and local police agency:
- How many SROs are employed and in which schools are they stationed? Compare these results to both student composition by race and poverty rates of schools within a division.
- Are they full-time or part-time employees?
- Are they stationed inside the school building or are they rotated through the district?
- If they are stationed inside the school building, what is their “beat” / where are they placed?
- What use of force implements (firearms, chemical restraints, mechanical restraints) do SROs carry, and under what conditions are SROs allowed to use these on students?
- What specific training do SROs receive before and during the time they are stationed in schools?
School Security Officers in the Schools
School Security Officers are school division employees in Virginia public and private schools (rather than law enforcement) and have the authority by state law to handle discipline matters within the school. Their duties would NOT usually be laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between school divisions and law enforcement because they are not law enforcement. However, they are—by state law—able to carry firearms on duty and refer students to both school discipline officers and police under certain qualifications, including if they are retired law enforcement officers.
Sample questions to ask of your school division:
- How many School Security Officers are employed by the school division and in which schools are they stationed? Compare these results to both student composition by race and poverty rates of schools within a division.
- Do School Security Officers carry firearms, chemical restraints, or mechanical restraints, and under what conditions are they permitted to use these on students?
- Do schools track data and information about referrals by School Security Officers of students to school discipline officers or law enforcement? Communities could demand that this information be anonymized and tracked, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, age, and disability status of students and disaggregated by the school within the division.
- Do schools track data and information about the use of force and use of seclusion/restraint by School Security Officers on students? Communities could demand that this information be anonymized and tracked, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, age, and disability status of students and disaggregated by the school within the division. Compare this data to both student composition by race and poverty rates of schools within a division.
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
As of July 1, 2019, all school divisions who use School Resource Officers must have enacted a Memorandum of Understanding between the school division and local law enforcement agency to govern their use. Va. Code §22.1-280.2:3.
Beginning July 1, 2020, these school divisions must also:
1) post the most recent MOU on their website;
2) review the MOU at least once every two years (and at any point if either schools or police request it); and
3) provide opportunity for public input during its review.
This agreement should lay out the duties of SROs, as well as detail the responsibilities of school divisions and law enforcement in maintaining their use, including how costs are divided.
Sample questions to ask your local school division and law enforcement agency:
- When was the original MOU established and what is the date of the current MOU?
- Who negotiates the MOU, and who negotiated the original agreement?
- When is the next scheduled date for review?
If MOUs are used, communities can also demand an active role in their development and approval. The agreements should at least be placed on agendas of public meetings and be voted on publicly.
School Resource Officers are funded differently across the Commonwealth. Some localities fund SROs using strictly local dollars. Others use supplemental grant funding from the state, via the School Resource Officer Grant Fund maintained by the Va. Dept. of Criminal Justice Services. Some school divisions reimburse local law enforcement/police agencies for SRO positions, whereas some localities use cost-sharing agreements between schools and police to provide funding.
Sample questions to ask local school divisions, law enforcement agencies, and city managers/city councils/boards of supervisors:
- How are SROs funded in this locality? Ask for a line item breakdown of all costs associated with maintaining SROs, and from where that funding is drawn.
- When was the SRO program started in this locality, and how was funding allocated over time (look at least 5-10 years back)?
- How are support staff and socio-emotional supports funded in the school division, and how has staffing of counselors, mental health supports, nurses, psychologists, mediators, and other support staff changed over time based on funding?
- Are there student or community needs assessments that are informing budget choices?
- When are School Resource Officer budgets approved each year? When have they been up for a vote on either school board or city/county agendas? When is the next such vote?
Student Referrals to Law Enforcement and Court
Virginia is among the states that refer the most students to law enforcement and courts. Nationally and statewide, we know there are extreme disparities within school discipline and school policing of students by race and disability. This data can be tracked at the local level, and communities can demand local school boards provide this information and discuss it publicly at forums, school board meetings, and other events to help address any disproportionate contact by race and disability.
Sample questions to ask of local school divisions, local law enforcement/police agencies, Court Service Units, and the Va. Dept. of Juvenile Justice. All of this data should be anonymized, then disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, age or grade, and disability to examine any disparities. It is also helpful to look at this data over time—a 5– to 10-year look back is helpful to show trends.
- How many students were referred to law enforcement by school administrators in a given school year? As of July 1, 2020, school administrators will no longer be mandated to refer students to law enforcement for potential misdemeanor offenses. What will the data say about their discretion vs when they were mandated reporters?
- How many students were referred by school personnel to courts through a complaint or charge filed with the CSU?
- How many students were referred by law enforcement to courts through a complaint or charge filed with CSU?
- For what offenses were these students referred?
- What are the court outcomes for these students? How many were given diversion plans and how many were prosecuted? How do these results differ by race/ethnicity, gender, etc?