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 all students in the District receive the great public education they deserve. I am here to testify about the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and to encourage MPD and the Council to engage with schools, students, and families before making significant changes to the MPD School Security and Safety Program.
Approaches to school safety and security vary widely across charter school communities. In an exploratory survey of about thirty percent of charter LEAs, we learned that 52% contract with private security firms, 33% use employee security officers, 14% use staff to manage school safety and security, 10% contract with MPD, and 24% do not have security personnel in their buildings.1 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.
Based on what we’ve heard from school leaders and students, we do not believe the way to address the angst of community is to remove police or security from schools. Instead, the Council and this Committee should take three specific steps.
First, the Council should 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. As Miya Walker of the Black Swan Academy testified earlier this week, “No school should have an SRO and not also have a school nurse, counselor and social worker.”
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.
Second, the Council and MPD should engage with school leaders, students, and parents to improve the SRO program. In our preliminary survey, school leaders rated their interactions with their SROs as a 3.0 on a scale of 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). When asked what changes they would like to see with the SRO program, only 6% of leaders indicated they would like SROs removed from their buildings. The vast majority wanted improvements to the program, including 56% who wanted better procedures. 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;
- 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.
Finally, to address these and other areas of improvement identified from engagement with school communities, MPD and charter schools should enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the SRO program and other MPD involvement in schools.2 An MOU is crucial to creating a shared system of accountability, support, and expectations that enhances rather than detracts from learning environments.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.