Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson 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 school security in DC’s public charter schools.
Approaches to school safety and security vary widely across charter school communities. In a preliminary survey of about two-thirds of charter LEAs, we learned that 25 percent contract with private security firms, 19 percent use employee security officers, 13 percent use staff to manage school safety and security, 4 percent contract with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and 36 percent do not have security personnel in their buildings. 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 recently, “We are simultaneously at odds with the way MPD often engages with our students and yet absolutely need their assistance to respond to extreme circumstances with high safety risks.” 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 cannot just center solutions on removing police from schools. We must prioritize the needs of our families to provide a real, effective safety net. With that in mind, the Council should take four specific steps.
First, the Council and MPD should engage with school leaders, students, and parents to improve the SRO program. Preliminary results from a survey conducted this month show that school leaders rated their interactions with their SROs as a 2.8 on a scale of 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). 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.
Second, the Council should support a number of the DC Police Reform Commission’s recommendations on school security. Preliminary results from the same survey conducted this month show that the majority of school leaders support or strongly support the following:
- Making investments in supporting positive youth development and promoting safe and healthy learning environments, including shifting from punitive disciplinary practices to ones that are restorative;
- Distributing resources based on the school’s and the surrounding neighborhoods’ needs;
- Prohibiting MPD and other law enforcement agencies from serving warrants, detaining, or arresting youth on campus or at-school related events;
- Protecting students and families from federal immigration enforcement agencies;
- Making school weapon-free zones; and
- Requiring police to disarm in schools unless responding to a violent incident.
Third, 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. An MOU is crucial to creating a shared system of accountability, support, and expectations that enhances rather than detracts from learning environments.
Finally, 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. 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. Full funding of the at-risk weight will help close those gaps where the help is most needed.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.