The School Board, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and the Leesburg Police Department on Monday night worked out a new Memorandum of Understanding for the School Resource Officer program.
The current agreement is from 2015. A recent Virginia state law requires that a new document be implemented every two years.
The new version was two years in the making, and now will be posted on the school system’s website for public review before a School Board vote on Tuesday, June 22.
Through the program, each school in the district is assigned a school resource officer and a school security officer. The deputies and police officers assigned to the schools are employed by and report first to their respective law enforcement agencies. They have roles in the schools similar to that of a contractor.
One sticking point for board members reviewing the agreement was whether to designate the SRO’s as “school officials.” Leslee King (Broad Run) was concerned that titling the officers as “school officials” would misrepresent their roles within the school building.
“I don’t think we need to put out there that they are school officials, because to us they are not. They are certainly helping us, I’m in favor of SROs, for safety. But I think that confuses people,” said King.
Sheriff’s Office Maj. Easton McDonald said school administrators may need to explain information to an SRO to deal with situations or crises as they arise. Legally, he said, the SRO needs the “school official” designation to have access to personal information. He said deputies and police officers understand their roles within the schools.
“We have keys and access to the building. It is a partnership. We might not be siblings, but we are cousins,” he said.
McDonald also highlighted the caliber of the SROs assigned to schools.
“These are not fresh-out-of-the-academy individuals looking to make arrests. These are individuals with years of experience that go into the schools,” he said.
Another point of contention in the agreement was the SRO’s roles in on-campus investigations. As the document currently stands, students suspected of a crime on campus will be interviewed on school grounds. The school administrators or the SRO will contact the student’s parent prior to the interview. If a student is suspected of a crime that occurred off school grounds, the suspect only will be interviewed in their school if information is needed quickly for the sake of public safety.
If students are victims of a crime, they may be interviewed before their parents are informed, depending on the nature of the offense.
McDonald gave the example of a student who is a victim of domestic violence. In that situation, the parents would likely not be informed before the interview because of their potential involvement in the crime.
Under the agreement, school administrators may act in the role of the parent during interviews. This was of particular concern to School Board members and administrators.
“When you put the staff in that roll, you’re putting them at odds with law enforcement,” said the school district’s attorney, Stephen Devita.
Board members raised concerns that having a school official in the interview room could influence students’ responses to questioning, and inadvertently cause coercion.
All principals, vice principals, and deans will undergo training before next school year, to understand the role of SRO within the school.
“Law enforcement is not there to police our schools. They are there to support,” McDonald said.
After a contentious meeting last month, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) on Monday praised both LCSO and LPD for their efforts working through the agreement.
“We are pleased with the collaboration that occurred on our behalf by staff,” Sheridan said.