In these unsettling and crisis-driven times, we struggle to hear the divergent opinions and voices raised. The press of absorbing the moment-to-moment changes can be exhausting without even attending to the troubling subject matter: a lethal pandemic, an economic crash, black lives matter and ‘defund’ the police. How to respond? We need immediate economic assistance and immediate intervention to calm the police brutality being protested across the nation. We also need to make systemic changes to even begin to eliminate the racism embedded in so much of guidelines of daily life in our Commonwealth. The coronaivirus pandemic demands change and resources as well. Can we respond quickly and effectively to these intertwined and mutually exacerbating multiple crisis? Can we build economic stability, protect the health and livelihood of our families, friends and communities, while rooting out systemic discrimination and ‘reopening’?
The answer is “I don’t know, but we have to try and try now!”
Like many of your elected representatives at all levels, I am developing proposed legislation and regulations in all these areas. Also like all your elected representatives, I want to hear your recommendations for ways to begin the attack and create a foundation for a vastly better future.
To this end, I am hosting a Zoom townhall on June 18th at 7PM. I have invited guests representing many points of view and experiences to join me. We will all be responding to your questions, both those submitted ahead of time through the link on my facebook page and in my newsletter, as well as those asked during the townhall. The conversation will not be limited to one or two topics. The only limit will be the time available: 45 minutes. Please join me on the 18th. If you cannot enter the meeting, email the questions you would like asked.
Right now, I am evaluating the police reform instituted in Camden, NJ, working with stakeholders to protect students with special needs as our schools reopen, considering what should be protected and expanded in our budget as preparation for the special session in early August, and advocating for your needs through the frustrating and confusing unemployment and CARES Act mire.
We have a lot of work to do today and tomorrow and tomorrow. I count on your support to represent you well.
As we know you are aware, many Virginians are supporting a nationwide call to rethink, suspend or eliminate the School Resource Officer program. We agree that the School Resource Officer programs as we know them today must be scrutinized now with the goal of suspension or elimination.
Data from school systems and universities across the country show that student suspensions, disciplinary actions and arrests have decreased by as much as 77 percent in schools with substantially limited SRO programs, such as the Suspending Kids to School program in Waco, Texas. Or that The Denver Public Schools limited and reoriented their SRO program using restorative justice strategies. Since instituting this approach, discipline referrals of African-American students fell to a 10 year low, Latino student referrals dropped by nearly 75 percent, and referrals of white students also decreased. The suspension rate decreased by 33 percent and the drop-out rate fell dramatically. These results are only a few examples of recent changes made in many school systems.
We can begin to fund those counselors by repurposing the SRO funding in HB30, our new biennial budget. For example, Budget Item 406 F1 approves $4,700,000 the first year and $4,700,000 the second year from the General Fund for the School Resource Officer Incentive Grants Fund. This money should be used to increase the improved, but still inadequate, school counselors staffing ratio in the state budget.
The Covid-19 health crisis and accompanying economic crisis have offered us a unique and timely opportunity to act. Our schools have been closed for months and will not be completely open for months to come. SROs have had no place in our shuttered schools and likely will have no place in our gradual, partial reopening. Now is the time for a hiatus in the law enforcement presence in our schools and to make thoughtful changes for re-introducing or eliminating SROs in the future.