Safe and supportive schools

Uche Mbachu

“Dear Prince George’s County Public Schools Community,
In classrooms, homes and communities across our nation, there are critical discussions underway about the proper role of law enforcement and the future of policing. I want to engage you in a thoughtful dialogue about what’s happening here in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) to ensure a safe and orderly learning environment.
These steps include proactive measures such as restorative approaches, mandatory implicit bias and cultural training for security staff and School Resource Officers (SROs), and increasing the number of unarmed security assistants assigned to secondary schools. Our security teams at all high schools and several middle schools work alongside SROs from county and municipal police agencies as an additional layer of protection. SROs are present in all Maryland public school systems. In addition to serving as a uniformed presence in the schools, many of the officers are positive role models. From a safety perspective, we have found that students often feel more comfortable telling a uniformed officer instead of a faculty or staff member about community and safety concerns.
This year, PGCPS went a step further than any other district in the state and committed to placing a mental health therapist at each school within the next four years. Next year, when we return, more than 80 schools will have a therapist. We also are working with our Prince George’s County Department of Social Services to implement a crisis intervention model that targets wraparound supports to students and families who need them the most.
I welcome a dialogue about any concerns regarding the presence of SROs. It is entirely reasonable to discuss whether police officers are overrepresented in our schools and offer community-based solutions to keeping students safer in our schools. That discussion should take into account the views of those who not only advocate in our community, but those who work in our schools every day, and those who entrust us with their most precious gift — their children. Before making drastic changes, we should have reasonable alternatives that answer the questions I’ve received over and over from parents and employees in the last 24 hours: In the absence of school resource officers, how will you ensure my child’s safety? How will this proposal increase the responsibility of teachers or administrators who already feel overwhelmed? Does this proposal make our students more or less safe?
As the CEO, a former high school principal and PGCPS parent, I can assure you that having safe and supportive schools is not an either/or proposition. We do a disservice to our students and teachers when the choice is safety or support. We can have both.”