Last month, the Department of Education and Department of Justice released a new resource to assist states and school districts in improving School Resource Officer (SRO)-related policy and practice. The guide, “Safe, School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics” is designed to help education and law enforcement agencies that use SROs to review and, if necessary, revise SRO-related policies so that they align with what the DOE and DOJ call “common-sense action steps that can lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights.” The SECURe Rubrics center around the basic premise that SROs “should ensure school safety and security but should not administer discipline in schools.” The stated goal of these guidelines is to prevent “unnecessary or inappropriate arrests, referrals to law enforcement, contact with the juvenile justice system, and violations of civil rights laws.” The SECURe Rubrics also provide examples of policies in place that help communities establish responsible school-police partnerships.
The Rubrics start with five common-sense action steps that include (1) creating a partnership and formalizing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) among school districts, law enforcement, juvenile justice entities, and civil rights and community stakeholders; (2) ensuring that MOUs meet constitutional and statutory civil rights requirements; (3) recruiting and hiring effective SROs and school personnel; (4) keeping SROs and school personnel well trained; and (5) continuing to evaluate SROs and school personnel and recognizing good performance.
Step 1: Creating sustainable partnerships supported by strong MOUs may include establishing an MOU prior to commissioning SROs; requiring that MOUs be substantially similar to an approved model; requiring the involvement of school administrators, educators, law enforcement, and community stakeholders; and requiring periodic revisions of the MOUs. The Rubrics also suggest mandating the collection, analysis, and reporting of school-based law enforcement data to inform the development of partnerships, to inform the MOU review process, and to evaluate compliance with federal, state, and local civil rights laws.
Step 2: To ensure that MOUs meet constitutional and statutory civil rights requirements, the SECURe Rubrics advise that the MOU partnership identify federal and state constitutional provisions and federal, state, and local civil rights laws and ordinances that apply to law enforcement in educational settings and ensure that law enforcement and school administrative policies and practices comply with those requirements. This will require periodic review of the laws by all partners, as well as training to all involved in implementing the MOU.
Steps 3 and 4: Recruiting, hiring and training effective SROs and school personnel are the next steps. This involves school-specific preparation and specifying the minimum duration of training. Officers should be encouraged to minimize arrests when a less punitive measure, such as diversion, restorative justice, or the school code of conduct could be applied. In addition, the guidance suggests that the MOU, and school policy and practice, eliminate the involvement of SROs in non-criminal matters. Training on youth development is also advisable, as well as clarity on the type and frequency of the training. These steps should also include clarifying the processes for a school’s right to request removal or re-assignment of an SRO.
Step 5: Partners and stakeholders must ensure that SROs and school personnel are continually evaluated for compliance with the MOU, as well as State and local policies. Of course, partnerships are urged to recognize good performance.
Designed to close what is often referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline, the SECURe Rubrics are built on the underlying notion that while “there should be effective responses to a student’s willful misbehavior, the focus should be on prevention and positive interventions – not reflexively removing students from regular academic instruction or unnecessarily escalating situations by calling SROs to classrooms to enforce discipline.”
Photo by Portland Bureau of Transportation via Flickr