Good afternoon, Chairperson Pinto and members of the Committee. My name is Anne Herr and I am the Senior Director of School Support at the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that every student can choose high-quality public schools that prepare them for lifelong success.
Our city is experiencing violent incidents, often involving young people and often in the neighborhoods surrounding our schools. That violence is often a barrier to school attendance. And, when students do attend, their ability to focus on academics and productively learn is hindered. Charter school leaders need better access to timely information about what’s going on in their neighborhoods to ensure their school communities are safe both inside and outside the building. And, when it becomes necessary to call the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) because of an incident nearby or inside a school to keep students and staff safe, response times are often too slow. Once they do respond, their approach is often not student-centered.
We are grateful that MPD and the city are shining a light on public safety, especially for young people. We appreciate that the “Reducing Law Enforcement Presence in Schools Amendment Act of 2021” placed limits on when police can execute warrants and arrest students in schools.. And, more recently, we’ve witnessed a greater effort in improving communications between MPD and schools. We are glad to see the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) restarted weekly cluster school safety meetings and look forward to collaborating more closely with DME, MPD, and other public safety agencies on those calls.
I’m here today to share concrete steps the Council and MPD can take to improve safety for students and staff both inside and outside the school building: (1) reinstating and improving the School Resource Officer (SRO) Program, (2) improving MPD response when charter schools do call, and (3) targeting safety supports and improving coordination for the Safe Passage Program for neighborhoods experiencing the most violent incidents.
Reinstate and Improve the School Resource Officers Program
We believe one good next step is reinstating the SRO Program, a recommendation supported by charter schools. The primary reason for that support is that SROs are vital in sharing timely information with administrators about safety issues in our neighborhoods that may affect or spill over into school buildings. But we urge MPD to engage with charter schools to improve the program going forward. One concrete way to do this is collaborating to develop a training for SROs to help them understand differences in procedures they might encounter from LEA to LEA. Currently, SRO training is designed and conducted exclusively by DC Public Schools.
Enhance MPD Response with Better Data Tracking and Youth-Focused Training
Second, our schools recommend several steps to enhance MPD response when it becomes necessary to call. To start, we have heard from our school leaders that response times are often too slow, particularly when there’s a violent incident near a school. We recommend MPD better track data on response times to help inform staffing decisions and fill gaps where needed.
We’ve also heard from school leaders that when officers do arrive to support, their approach is often not student-centered. Schools need and want nuanced strategies that maintain safe spaces for learning. We recommend expanding youth-focused training that emphasizes racial equity, child development, trauma response, and de-escalation strategies to include all police officers, not just SROs. And, as part of a student-centered approach, we want to ensure that all officers have adequate discretion when responding to incidents within our schools that aren’t presenting a risk to the greater school community.
Target Safety Supports and Improve Safe Passage Program Coordination
Finally, there are several ways the city can better target and coordinate resources to keep students and staff safe as they commute to and from school. That starts with ensuring MPD and violence interrupters are deployed to neighborhoods experiencing the most violent incidents. We also recommend improving coordination between MPD, SROs, and Safe Passage Program workers and schools so that they are appropriately addressing and sharing safety concerns and strategies. Additionally, many public schools do not have access to Safe Passage support right now despite being located in a Priority Area. We urge the Administration to ensure every public school within a Priority Area has access to Safe Passage support.
Ensuring our students and staff are safe inside and outside the school building is a top priority for our schools. We recognize these recommendations won’t solve all public safety issues because ultimately, we’re dealing with a crisis rooted in systemic racism and abject poverty. As one of our leaders said recently, “Violence is the obvious and basic result of decades of systematic disenfranchisement.” But there are concrete steps we can and should take right now, and we hope we can work together to do everything in our power to provide safe learning environments so students can be successful.
Thank you for your time and attention, and I welcome your questions.