Montgomery County Workgroup Convenes to Look at Alternatives to Police in Schools

    A work group met for the first time Thursday to develop recommendations for alternative safety measures to replace armed officers in Montgomery County Public Schools.

    In March, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) announced that he plans to remove those police, called school resource officers, from public high schools by fall 2021 and replace them with a “community model.”

    In April, the school system and Montgomery County Councilmembers Will Jawando (D) and Craig Rice (D) and  launched the workgroup to help the county determine what supports students need without police officers present.

    The “Student Wellbeing Action Group (SWAG),” a name that the group chose on Thursday, aims to hear directly from students about what mental health support and safety measures they need in school.

    The workgroup includes 29 organizations that represent students, parents and health care professionals.

    It will meet bi-weekly and provide recommendations to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the County Council by July 31.  Some of those recommendations may be considered for the upcoming school year, according to Rice’s chief of staff Sharon Ledner.

    During the group’s first meeting Thursday, Rice reproached Elrich’s “CRO (community resource officer) model,” which he said no one on the council supports.

    “I don’t even know what [CRO] is. It’s not in the budget that we just passed,” Rice said.

    Advocacy organizations, including Young People for Progress, have been pushing against Elrich’s community model. They say “community resource officers” would be like school resource officers who are moved outside of school buildings, but still allowed to surveil students.

    “We need to hear from primarily the students and advocates of students in our community about what kind of system we want to see that ensures your overall well-being and safety — period. That’s the only prescription that I have,” Rice said.

    Rice had been a strong supporter of keeping police in schools, but recently he changed his mind and said he didn’t think police officers contributed to a safe environment for students.

    Montgomery County high school student Kyson Taylor is serving as co-chair of the workgroup, which Councilmember Jawando highlighted as “historic” for the county.

    “We shouldn’t have anything dealing with students that doesn’t have a student in leadership positions,” Jawando  said.

    After introductions, the workgroup went through the topics that they will focus on for the next few weeks. Taylor, the student co-chair, said the group will focus on “three main pillars of change.”

    Those pillars are mental health, school discipline that focuses on restorative justice (which centers on rehabilitation), and wraparound services for students and their families.

    Understanding the historical relationship between police and Black and Brown communities and why it is important to remove police from schools is critical because “we don’t just want [police] out just because we don’t have anything better to do,” said Wylea Chase, a representative from the NAACP Parents Council.

    Providing a list of mental health and counseling resources and wraparound services that are already available would be helpful, said Regina Morales, deputy chief for behavioral health (HHS) at Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services.

    For the next few weeks, Morales suggested that the group frame their thinking around the question “if we were in school today, how would we want the school climate to be?”

    “I think what we’re doing is envisioning what we would like an ideal school environment to be. What supports do students need more of and what do you think students need less of?”

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    Elizabeth Shwe
    Shwe covered California state politics during her internship at The Sacramento Bee. She is a 2020 graduate of Princeton University with a degree in political science. At Princeton she was a producer for WPRB 103.3 FM News & Culture section, the station’s only long form podcast-type program. Shwe also wrote for The Daily Princetonian, and tutored with the Petey Greene Program, which offers free tutoring to incarcerated people. Shwe is a Report for America corps member.