The public is getting more clarity on the role that police officers will have inside Montgomery County Public Schools. An agreement between the school system and the police department lays out the newest version of the county's community engagement officer program.
Those "CEOs," as they're called, won't be permanently stationed inside schools. But they will still interact with students in some cases.
A shooting in January inside Magruder High School was a dividing line within the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) community. While one side called for the return of school resource officers, the other wanted more focus on student wellness.
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Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight says the CEO program aims to do both.
"Our objective in establishing the new CEO program is to ensure that MCPS staff addresses the wide array of social and emotional needs that our students have, by making sure that, when needed, law enforcement is available," Dr. McKnight said Tuesday night.
The community engagement officers are sworn uniformed law enforcement officers each assigned to a cluster of schools. They respond to critical incidents such as sexual assault, gun possession, robbery and hate crimes, and incidents in which school administrators would take the lead, such as drug possession.
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While office space will be available to them, CEOs will not be permanently stationed within a school. They'll have direct contact with administrators and will serve as liaisons between law enforcement and MCPS officials, while also participating in other school-based events.
"This document is a vehicle for codifying the relationship, a partnership, and a program that builds trust, reduces disproportionate minority contacts, diverts individuals to restorative justice, and safeguards our community," said Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones of the agreement.
Opponents such as Councilmember Will Jawando argue the agreement was made in haste following the shooting at Magruder.
"But the idea that this program is going to stop that, I think— I don't agree with [it], in light of, also, the harm that we know is happening," Jawando said.
Jawando said this latest iteration of the CEO program doesn't allow investments in new mental health supports within MCPS to take hold. He also pointed to the negative impact that police in schools have on Black and brown students.
Parents such as Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, co-director of Racial Justice Now, says the agreement, which is not legally binding, is a step in the wrong direction.
"There are not enough hard protections in there for students," Sankara-Jabar said. "MCPS as an institution has a lot of work to do to root out its own implicit and explicit bias among administrators and staff who weaponize the police against certain students."
Some county leaders believe that, although the program is not perfect, it's a good way to protect students.
"We have to do something to ensure the safety of our kids," said Councilmember Craig Rice. "And as I've looked at this MOU [memorandum of understanding], I feel it's a compromise. It is not perfect, as compromises often are not."
Although Tuesday was the first time the new agreement was discussed publicly, it's already been in effect and will last through the end of the school year. MCPS has also hired 28 social workers to provide more mental health support for students.