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Board discussion on removing Prince George’s County school resource officers delayed until September

The Prince George’s County Board of Education did not discuss the use of school resource officers Thursday night — the item was tabled until Sept. 14 in a motion that couldn’t be debated.

Earlier this week District 5 Representative Raaheela Ahmed and District 1 Representative David Murray submitted separate but similar proposals. Ahmed’s resolution, which was up for consideration Thursday but removed from the agenda at the start of the meeting, would ask schools CEO Monica Goldson to not renew memoranda of agreement with the county and local agencies. Ahmed said earlier this week that the agreement with the county has already lapsed, and that other agreements would end in July.

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“Officers don’t need to be in that building. Our schools are meant to be spaces for growth and learning and advancement,” Ahmed said earlier this week. “It is the antithesis of what we are trying to do to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.”

At the start of the board meeting Thursday, appointed Board Member Curtis Valentine made the ultimately successful motion to delay consideration of the resolution until Sept. 14.

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The 14-member board approved the amended agenda without the SRO item, but not without procedural discord.

At first when Chair Alvin Thornton called for a vote on whether or not to amend the agenda, he said his understanding was that Student Member Joshua Omolola wasn’t eligible to vote. Omolola said “pass” when it was his turn, but after discussion Thornton ruled that the student could in fact vote on amending the agenda. When asked if he wanted to vote and how he would vote, Omolola said “yes,” which was understood to be a “yes” vote to amend the agenda, tabling the SRO discussion.

The next motion was to adopt the amended agenda — essentially to agree to the list of items to be discussed that night, without the SRO topic. The vote to adopt the amended agenda was deadlocked, seven to seven.

Thornton, District 3 Representative Pamela Boozer-Strother, District 4 Representative Bryan Swann, District 9 Representative Sonya Williams, Appointed Member D. Paul Monteiro, Jr., Appointed Member Sandra D. Shephard and Appointed Member Curtis Valentine voted to move ahead with the amended agenda. Ahmed, Omolola, District 2 Representative Joshua Thomas, District 6 Representative Belinda Queen, Vice Chair Edward Burroughs III, District 1 Representative David Murray and District 7 Representative K. Alexander Wallace voted not to.

After that vote Omolola asked if it was possible to change his first vote to a “no,” so they could keep the discussion about school resource officers on the agenda. A motion was made to reconsider that first vote. Wallace had initially voted against amending the agenda to remove the SRO item, and he had voted against adopting the amended agenda. But on the question of reconsidering that first vote, he voted no. The motion to reconsider failed eight to six. And then when the amended agenda was again up for adoption, he voted to adopt it, switching his earlier stance and allowing the agenda to be adopted eight to six.

On Friday, Wallace said he changed his vote so that the meeting could have an agenda and proceed. He said he has polled his community and found that the majority of people are against removing SROs, however that doesn’t mean he wants to do nothing –– the community is talking about the issue whether the board discusses it or not, he said.

Wallace has submitted a resolution to the board’s chair calling for a number of actions: to create a community task force that would issue recommendations within 45 days, to provide teachers and SROs with more crisis intervention training, to train SROs on the history of racism in the school system and school they will serve in, to add them to the school’s administration team and to prioritize hiring alumni and county residents.

With discussion tabled until September, District 6 Board Member Belinda Queen started to ask what would happen to those memoranda of understanding while the issue was in limbo. However, there wasn’t any debate or discussion Thursday. Chair Alvin Thornton said that the motion to amend the agenda is non-debatable, so they couldn’t talk about the item that night.

In an Operations, Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee meeting this week, Curtis said he supports school resource officers in Prince George’s, saying the quick response time can be crucial, as can relationships built between students and police. Three of the five committee members voted to recommend to the full board that it end agreements with police departments.

District 1 Board Member David Murray drafted the proposal discussed in that committee, which also included more popular suggestions to boost funding for mental health support services by $5 million and to have Goldson make a plan within 60 days for PGCPS to meet the requirements of the 2018 Maryland Safe to Learn Act.

Earlier Thursday during a press conference Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said she is opposed to ending agreements that put armed resource officers in school buildings. Officers are in schools as part of the county’s community policing program, she said, and teachers and students deserve as much protection as possible from the threat of a mass shooting.

“I believe that we cannot afford to withdraw a single resource from our students,” Alsobrooks said. “It’s both/and. It is that they deserve to be in a place where they are safe and they deserve to have the mental health services and every other service they deserve.”

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Also on Thursday, Maryland Office of the Public Defender called for the Prince George’s County Board of Education to remove school resource officers from public schools. According to a press release, the agency said the presence of school resource officers contributes to the negative impact on black students.

The agency cited data from the Maryland State Department of Education. In the 2017 to 2018 school year, Prince George’s County had 350 school based arrests while Montgomery County had 226 and Baltimore City had 60.

Out of those arrests made by school resource officers in Prince George’s County, 31% were non-violent offenses and a third were referred for prosecution, the press release states.

Bowie Police Chief John Nesky said the department has two SROs, one for Bowie High School and a second for the Bowie High Annex, where freshmen learn.

He said he thinks ending the arrangement would be a disservice to staff and students, as building relationships is one of the tenants of community-based policing.

“When you remove us from that environment it takes away a chance for trust-building,” he said.

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Capital reporter Naomi Harris contributed to this article.

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