The Albemarle County School Board wants to eliminate the daily presence of school resource officers in division schools.
The board held a retreat meeting Friday regarding the SRO program, as well as the division’s return-to-school plan. The examination of the SRO program follows an announcement from Charlottesville City Schools June 11 to end its program, amid a national conversation about the role of policing in America.
Additional information was supposed to be presented to the board during Friday’s retreat, but due to a staff member being out sick, the presentation was delayed until next week. Board members instead shared their thoughts about the program, which led to a unanimous vote to eliminate the daily presence of SROs in an upcoming memorandum of understanding for consideration.
“I want to clarify the fact that we’re directing a new MOU is not the final decision on the thing,” said board member David Oberg. “If we get an MOU, and it lays out, ‘This is what we’ve done, but I really don’t think you should sign it,’ we don’t have to sign.”
The division’s MOU with the police department was last revised in 2008 and is now under review. A draft of a new MOU recently sent to School Board members still dictated the daily presence of SROs.
Some board members expressed concerns about the review currently being conducted, which was requested after a June 11 meeting, and expressed interest in conducting an independent review.
“It still feels like we’re looking from the inside, and that’s always hard to judge,” said board member Judy Le.
“I would like an independent review of our program, as long as it can be concluded in time for the next school year,” said board member Ellen Osborne. “I was assuming that it would be a statistical review and not an anecdotal one requiring retelling of personal experiences, because I don’t think it’s right to ask people to relive trauma.”
Board members also said they think police officers could be helpful in continuing to evaluate buildings, procedures and physical safety issues, among other things, but that a continuous presence is not needed.
“Saying that police officers should not be on campus is not derogatory towards the police officers,” Oberg said. “... I think we absolutely have to have a relationship with the fire department, but we don’t have fire personnel on site all the time. We have to have, frequently, physicians and paramedics, but we don’t have those on site all the time.”
Albemarle schools Superintendent Matt Haas said he feels like School Board members think staff was trying to slow down the process, “as if I or my staff have some vested interest in keeping the police in the schools and we’re opposed to making a change.”
“That is not the case,” he said. “I think I’ve made it pretty clear, at least in emails to the board, that I’m very happy to shake up a paradigm that’s existed in our schools for quite some time now.”
Haas said he didn’t see the “absolute urgency” to make a decision the same night that the issue was brought up, as school is out and will not restart for a couple of months. He said the motion passed by the board helps to narrow the work staff will do.
During a discussion of the division’s return-to-school plan, Rosalyn Schmitt, the division’s chief operating officer, said transportation is going to be the limiting factor driving the schedule.
“We’re working on it, we do know that we will be able to deliver students safely and it will be a layering of mitigation strategies both from seating kids one per seat, considering the use of masks, ventilation, what’s the best way to ventilate a bus,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations with different organizations and the health department. We’re working hard on that topic because … it’s going to be our most challenging piece.”
A survey will go out to parents next week in which they will be asked about the school transportation needs they anticipate for their children.
“We do have many parents that drive their children to school already,” Deputy Superintendent Debora Collins said. “If parents feel like that’s something that they could do, that can help us bring more children to school, quite frankly.”
Schmitt said the division is still reviewing the options, but if every other seat on a 77-passenger bus is used for one student, that would reduce the bus to about 12 passengers, and if every seat is used, that would be about 24 passengers.
“We know we have buses that range from capacity of 55 to 77 [passengers], but we also know siblings can sit together, so we’re using scenarios that either average 12 or average 24,” she said.
Board member Katrina Callsen asked if the division plans to take temperatures of students and staff each day.
“We know that taking temperatures may make people feel better, and it’s a very visual thing, but we don’t know how much we’re actually achieving by doing that,” Schmitt said.
There are logistical challenges, she said, such as taking temperatures at the school door likely would cause people to gather, and what happens to students who have a fever if they are tested while getting on the bus.
“We have decided that we want to educate and promote that self-screening, and we will support and train our families in doing that,” she said.
Collins said they are thinking about creating a parent guide for returning to school, so that what the division is doing and the expectations are all in one place.
The return-to-school planning guide will be finalized next week.