Good afternoon, Chairperson Allen and members of the Council. My name is Shannon Hodge and I am the Founding Executive Director of 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. I am here to testify about the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and to again encourage MPD and the Council to engage schools, students, and families in the changes to the MPD School Security and Safety Program.
As I shared at last year’s performance oversight hearing, approaches to school safety and security vary widely across charter school communities. School leaders make decisions about how to approach school safety and security through deep reflection about the work and mission of their schools and through meaningful engagement with their school communities about how to best handle safety and security concerns.
Police meaningfully involved in schools can help administrators stay current on what’s happening in communities that may affect or spill over into school buildings. They can provide a sense of security that many students need to learn. And they can resolve issues that may be beyond the scope of school administrators, like guns in buildings.
Yet, we know that any type of police presence in schools is complicated. As one leader shared, “The angst in the community is real.” What schools need and want are nuanced approaches to safety and security that balance the need to maintain safe spaces for learning with the fact that many students and staff have had negative experiences with police.
Last year, as the Council was considering changes to the SRO program, we offered three specific recommendations to address concerns about police in schools. While the Council and MPD have not moved on any of those recommendations, we understand that personnel in the School Safety Division, which includes the SRO program, will be cut by nearly a third by July 1, 2022. Yet charter school leaders have not received any official communication about those cuts or how those cuts will affect their school communities, leaving them little time to plan for the type of staffing and programmatic shifts that such a change will create.
If by removing SROs from schools, the Council envisioned environments where other professionals were available to support students and where police, when present, engage with youth in different ways, more needs to be done. Much more. To that end, I offer again the recommendations we made last year:
- Fully fund the at-risk weight to ensure that SROs and security officers are not taking on responsibilities left unaddressed due to the absence of needed professionals or the lack of needed training. Our school leaders recognize that many safety issues arise from our students’ experiences with trauma and unmet mental health needs, so they have invested heavily in social and emotional supports, crisis management coordinators, and de-escalation training for staff. But there are still gaps that adequate funding can help schools fill. As a school leader shared, “We have asked SROs to fill in the gap for roles that they should have never had.” Full funding of the at-risk weight will help close those gaps where the help is most needed.
- Engage with school leaders, students, and parents to improve the SRO program. Some potential areas for improvement include the following:
- Greater alignment between schools’ safety needs and SROs’ duties;
- Greater clarity about the expectations for SRO presence in school buildings, as some school leaders report never seeing SROs on their campuses;
- Mandatory SRO training in child development, trauma response, de-escalation strategies, discipline regulations, and laws that affect how schools may handle safety and security issues; and
- Greater clarity between MPD and schools on what schools are required to produce (e.g., documents, rooms to interview students, students as witnesses) or provide (e.g., office space, dedicated computers) for MPD officers.
- Use a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between MPD and charter schools for the SRO program and other MPD involvement in schools. An MOU is crucial to creating a shared system of accountability, support, and expectations that enhances rather than detracts from learning environments.
The Council has decided that removing police or security from schools will benefit students. To ensure that the decision that has been made does not have unintended consequences, please continue doing what’s necessary to truly support our students and safe learning environments.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.