SRO Community Forum Commentary

Open Letter

I attended a community forum on the proposed School Resource Officer program. This forum was an excellent idea, and offered the opportunity for a valuable exchange of ideas between students, faculty, staff, parents, and community members. However, I have some concerns about the selection of speakers and the information that was presented, and some comments about the SRO program itself.

Two strong advocates from outside were given an opportunity to speak. We have a team from the school and community that visited other schools with SRO programs. This team was not mentioned, and it would have been instructive if they had an opportunity to relate their findings. The school board member who spoke indicated that they were going ahead with the grant application regardless of the outcome of the meeting.

The statistics on the 'fact sheet' seem misleading and overstated. The statement that "81% of students were victims of theft or knew someone who was a victim of theft" sounds far more dramatic than saying that there were 29 property crimes, some of which were thefts. All it means is that kids know lots of other kids.

A Student Climate Survey was referenced. It would have been helpful to have more information about the results. What percentage of students and staff oppose the SRO program? When students identified theft as the number one problem, was it from a limited list of options?

The fact sheet mentions 176 calls to the police department in a year. This number is surprising. The theft and harassment incidents listed on the fact sheet account for only half that number, even if the police were called for every incident. Is there a breakdown of most common reasons why they were called? Are there guidelines or policy statements that dictate what circumstances warrant law enforcement involvement?

The introduction of an armed law enforcement officer into any environment is a significant action. To do so in a school sends a message that the situation is desperate and that students and parents cannot be trusted. It also indicates that the administration has abdicated their responsibility for discipline and decorum.

This is very different from a guard who might monitor entry into the grounds or provide off-hours facility security. This is envisioned as someone who would mingle with the students and watch their actions - from hallway discussions to the classrooms to after-school activities to the bathrooms.

As an adult, try to imagine if your workplace introduced such an officer. In what conceivable way could that lead to a better workplace environment? Not surprisingly, both students and faculty have expressed strong opposition to this idea, and the students have indicated that the presence of such an officer would actually make them feel less safe.

While there are certainly issues at the school, there seemed to be nearly unanimous agreement from students, faculty, and community members that the current unassigned time policy is a major contributor to the problems cited in the fact sheet, and that addressing this and other root causes would be preferable to the proposed SRO position.

The forum participants identified a wide range of other ideas that could be explored and implemented to mitigate the underlying causes of the problems that the SRO program is intended to address.

The fact sheet describes student infractions as 'crimes'. This choice of phrasing reveals a disturbing attitude - that these students are criminals and that dealing with them is a police issue rather than the administration's responsibility. It's no secret that adolescents will sometimes display unacceptable behavior, but I would hope that we can make a distinction between these behaviors and true crimes that warrant law enforcement intervention.

As parents, community, and teachers, our responsibility is to prepare students for the decisions and responsibilities that they will face as adults. Where possible, student infractions need to be viewed as 'teaching moments' - opportunities to discuss choices and consequences, demonstrate alternatives, and establish behavioral standards.

Make no mistake - I am not suggesting that we should ignore student misbehavior. If anything, I would suggest that the school is too lax, particularly with respect to foul language and disrespect. Instead, I'm suggesting that the school should manage these incidents internally, and mete out punishment and privileges so as to teach rather than to simply label our children as criminals and pass them off to law enforcement.

Bill Kuhns
Monkton
10/29/2004