City school district considers changes to its school resource officer program

School Resource Officer Ronnie Bowers’ shift starts before students arrive and doesn’t always end when they leave the classroom as SROs are also present during sporting events held at the schools. SROs are mobile and spend the day patroling the school hallways and lunch periods getting to know students and faculty at the school they are assigned. (File photo)

By Haley Thomas, contributor

Harrisonburg City Public Schools will consider ways to improve school resource officer (SRO) relationships in schools, including introducing annual “check-ins” with facilitated dialogue, adding language to a policy that aims to protect students and expanding the group tasked with providing oversight of the program. 

That group, known as the biennial review team, suggested these recommendations. Virginia law requires that school boards conduct a biennial review of the district’s relationship with law enforcement. 

Shawn Printz, the school district’s chief operating officer, presented to the school board at its Tuesday business meeting on behalf of the biennial review team. Other team members include Michael Galgano, a member of the NAACP; Shoda Green, a parent of an HCPS student; Melissa Hensley, principal of Harrisonburg High School; Capt. Jason Kidd of the Harrisonburg Police Department; and Ellie Tjaden, a student. 

Printz said this review process requires considering the school resource officer program’s memorandum of understanding, which establishes rules and outlines expectations for the officers’ engagement in schools. It also allows for reviewing data from every reportable offense that a student commits, discussing recommended changes and publicizing the program’s measures of success. 

During the 2022-23 school year, the district, which has 6,379 total students, had 16 reportable interactions with school resource officers. 

Data collected in 2022-23 shows the incidents in which student offenses led to school resource officer involvement. (Courtesy of Harrisonburg City Public Schools)

While Printz said this was a relatively small number, he said the goal is to continue building the relationship between SROs and students. 

Printz said Tjaden had the idea to expand the biennial review team by two students who differ in gender and graduation year to ensure broader student representation. He said the team also hopes to include a school counselor. 

Additionally, Printz proposed a change to the school policy’s language. The original policy reads: “HCPS and the HPD/SRO will coordinate to ensure that every reasonable effort is made to inform the parents/guardians, in a language the parents/guardians can understand.” Printz said the team suggested adding to the end of the policy: “…once the incident has been de-escalated and school safety has been restored.”

Deb Fitzgerald, the school board chair, and Andy Kohen, the vice chair, asked if this revision could potentially lengthen the amount of time between an incident and when the schools contact parents or guardians. 

Richards said securing safety comes first, but ideally, handling the situation and contacting caretakers happen simultaneously. 

Printz said the biennial review team is focusing on publicizing “our focus on education and interaction of SROs with students,” data review and annual highlights of SRO program outcomes.  

“I think it’s safe to say we have a really good relationship with HPD and our SROs,” Richards said. “We love having our SROs on campus, and they’re part of our school community.”

Printz echoed Richards, calling the relationship between SROs and HCPS “phenomenal.” 

“The connections, the information sharing,” Printz said. “I appreciate everything they do every single day.”

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