The Howard County Board of Education voted 5-3 in a board meeting Thursday night to keep school resource officers in public schools next year.
The vote, which was meant to occur in April, had been continually delayed because the Howard County Police Department had not finished reviewing a new memorandum of understanding, an agreement between the Board of Education and the police department, according to a news release.
The memorandum includes plans to train SROs in areas such as anti-racism, cultural proficiency, de-escalation practices, disability awareness, implicit bias and trauma-informed care. Training will address racial, ethnic and class disparities in how students are treated.
Black students make up 24.7% of the county student population, while white students make up 32.8%, according to the most recent school system data. Hispanic or Latino students represent 12.5% and Asian students 23.3%. The rest identify as two or more races or other.
However, Black students have been suspended at higher rates than other students from 2017 through 2019, according to a report from the school system. At 5.6% in 2019, Black students’ suspension rate was almost 2.5 times higher than non-Black students’ suspension rate. Black students made up about 59.3% of all suspensions in 2019, while white students were at 17.4%, Hispanic students at 10.9%, two or more races or other at 6.5%, and Asian at 5.6%.
The SRO program, which has existed in the county since 1996, has 19 officers — one for each of the 12 public high schools and the Homewood Center and six officers across 12 middle schools. There are no SROs in elementary schools, but elementary and middle school administrators can receive coverage and assistance from police when needed.
The issue of having police officers in county schools has been a contentious one that came to the fore during youth-led racial justice protests last summer and a schoolwide walkout at Wilde Lake High School last month.
Board members Vicky Cutroneo, Christina Delmont-Small, Yun Lu, Jen Mallo and Chao Wu voted in favor of the motion, while Jolene Mosley, Antonia Watts and student member of the board Zach Koung voted against the motion.