Expanding the school resource officer program into Loudoun County elementary schools was a chief topic of discussion during a June 13 meeting between the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, School Board and local law enforcement leaders.
The issue has been a hot topic in recent months, with Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), her Republican challenger John Whitbeck and Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) all expressing support for more school resource officers.
County officials are not expected to add the expansion into the fiscal 2020 budget, which starts July 1. The program could be added for fiscal 2021 depending on budget direction from the School Board.
Over the next four years, the expansion is estimated by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to cost between $11.5 and $12.7 million, according to a presentation during the meeting.
Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said if the School Board can lay out its request for the fiscal 2021 budget, the Board of Supervisors can then determine the next step.
“I think there will be widespread support for this, but we need that to come from the schools to the county side of the government for us to do that, since we make the budget appropriations,” Buona said.
The Loudoun County School Board approves a budget for the school system, but it's up to county supervisors to determine the funding allocation for Loudoun County Public Schools.
In March, the Board of Supervisors tabled funding the SRO expansion in the county's fiscal 2020 budget. The board voted 4-3-2, with some members noting the School Board had not taken a position on the matter.
Catoctin Supervisor Geary Higgins (R) moved to table the matter. He was joined by supervisors Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Buona. Supervisors Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) were absent from the meeting, and Randall opposed tabling along with Koran Saines (D-Sterling) and Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).
Randall said expanding officers into the elementary schools should be a top priority.
The vote action came shortly after self-professed members of the Black Panther Party entered Madison's Trust Elementary School in Ashburn on March 1 with neither a juvenile or school resource officer present at the school. After a gym lesson during which students act as slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad for Black History Month, members of the group said they wanted to know how the school was addressing race-related issues.
Sheriff Chapman said a deputy responded to the school in about one minute, and no injuries were reported.
Under the sheriff’s office proposal are two four-year plans. One plan, estimated at $12.73 million, includes 52 LSCO elementary school resource officers, one high school officer for the upcoming Lightridge High School and four SRO sergeants.
The second plan, estimated at $11.59 million, includes 45 LCSO elementary school resource officers, eight Leesburg Police Department officers and four LCSO elementary school SRO sergeants. The plan would also add an officer to Lightridge High School. The cheaper proposal would be jointly funded by the county and Town of Leesburg at 70 and 30 percent, respectively.
“This is an all-in problem,” Randall said. “Everyone has to be in for the solution. It’s not just a one-size-fits-all for any community or sometimes for any school.”
Whitbeck, Randall's political opponent, has called for SROs in all elementary schools.
On the issue of school safety, Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams said the district has adopted an anti-cyberbullying curriculum and engaged with students to promote mental wellness. Additional school system funding over the years has also helped the expansion of unified mental health teams at the high school and middle school levels, along with an effort to expand social emotional learning.
Later this summer, Loudoun schools will be welcoming directors of communications and security to help address threat assessments and engage with the community on safety matters, according to School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles District).
Morse said, “We feel very confident that as we look at this holistically that we are addressing each piece of this separately, but together it’s providing much better security for the school system.”