The Carroll County Public Schools community once again demonstrated its appreciation for school resource officers (SROs) during Century High School’s graduation earlier this month, when students chose Master Deputy Demonte Harvey of the Carroll County’s Sheriff’s Office to be the keynote speaker.
“Me standing on this stage today addressing the student body and your family proves that being a good, faithful man with an open heart and mind means that I made a difference in your lives,” Harvey said during the June 2 graduation ceremony.
Not everyone has the same view of SROs. Just a few days prior and 30 minutes away from Century, students at Wilde Lake High in Howard County participated in a walkout to support the removal of school resource officers.
Sheriff Jim DeWees posted about Harvey’s speech on Facebook, June 3.
“To say Demonte was humbled is an incredible understatement! He and I spoke many times before he gave this speech,” DeWees wrote. “It’s obvious that that they love him as much as he loves them.”
He added that Harvey’s effect on students is like Santa Claus’s effect on the elves from the movie “The Polar Express” when they see him walk out to his sleigh.
Harvey was also recognized at an April meeting of the Carroll County Board of Education for helping save a Century High School student’s life after he collapsed at school. Harvey was referred to as a hero.
Maryland lawmakers introduced bills during this past session of the general assembly that would have altered the school resource officer program. Some county school boards, such as Howard, were considering whether the program should be removed from its public schools. But Carroll leaders, and some parents, wanted to keep the program.
Legislation to remove SROs from schools were rejected in the general assembly and Carroll’s program remains.
The SROs at Carroll wear body armor and a tool belt equipped with a gun, and to go in without it would put the deputy at a disadvantage if an incident were to occur, DeWees said. The deputies are not involved with school discipline and they work with school administration.
DeWees said on Facebook around that time that he does not support the legislation that was attempting to remove deputies from CCPS. And said the deputies in the program are respected, calm cool and collected.
Tara Battaglia, Carroll board of education member, called the program phenomenal. And the overwhelming majority of commenters to a social media interview request back in February said the SROs should not be removed from schools.
However, Rodney Morris, president of Carroll’s NAACP branch, said not everyone in Carroll feels that way.
Morris, who was a member of the Maryland State Police for more than 26 years, mentioned how the D.A.R.E. program was used to educate students about the law and a better option over having officers “coming to school to punish students.”
He said until the country can tackle gun violence, he questions if students are being kept safe with SROs.
Students at Wilde Lake High School in Howard have said they would feel better off without SROs. The school’s Students for Social Justice said SROs have a disproportionately negative impact on Black and brown students. Instead of SROs, the group is asking for the school system to implement restorative practices.
“These practices include relationship building, more mental health professionals and resources, trauma-informed and healing-centered practices, [and] peer mediation,” a news release announcing the walkout stated.
According to an April 2020 report from the school system, Black students have been suspended at higher rates than other students from 2017 through 2019. Black students’ suspension rate was almost 2.5 times higher than non-Black students’ suspension rate in Howard.
Carroll data showed of 30 arrests, 23 were white, 22 were boys and 25 were high school students.
DeWees said he carefully selected certain officers for Carroll schools and from his observations, it’s a good fit.
Harvey said during the graduation speech that he’s been at Century since 2019 and has developed a bond with students.
“I hope all of you see me as an example of making a difference in your lives,” he said.
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Baltimore Sun Media reporter Allana Haynes contributed to this report.