On September 8, 2016, the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS”) jointly released new guidance regarding school resource officer programs.  The new Safe School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (“SECURe”) rubrics are the result of the collaboration and partnership between these two federal agencies in an attempt to ensure that local and state educational agencies are implementing effective and positive school resource officer programs in the nation’s schools.  The SECURe rubric for local educational agencies aims to provide guidance to school districts on how to build trust between students and law enforcement officials through the school resource officer programs, while ensuring that school resource officer programs are administered responsibly in a non-discriminatory manner that takes a proactive approach to keeping students out of the school-to-prison pipeline.

The Department of Education’s strongly worded Dear Colleague Letter introducing the SECURe rubrics program explicitly states that school resource officers should not be administering discipline in schools and explains that an overreliance on the use of school resource officers may lead to violations of students’ civil rights and the potential for “unnecessary and harmful introduction of children and young adults into a school-to-prison pipeline.”  In the letter, the Secretary of Education encourages school officials to eliminate any school resource officer-related school discipline practices and policies that may contribute to students’ involvement with the juvenile justice system.  In order to create appropriate policies and practices regarding school resource officers, the Secretary encourages local education agencies to partner with local law enforcement agencies, school leaders, educators, families, students and community and civil rights stakeholders in a deliberate process about when and how to use school resource officers.  The Secretary further encourages appropriate training of school resource officers and the use of policies designed to reduce citations and arrests of students with a focus on increasing access to diversionary programs.  The Secretary notes that local educational agencies can avoid resorting to the use of school resource officers for disciplinary purposes by focusing on improving school climate, by addressing student discipline issues using Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, and by using corrective, but non-punitive interventions, including mental health supports and restorative justice programs.

The Justice Department’s Dear Colleague Letter similarly reiterates the legitimate concerns that have been raised regarding the use of school resource officers in schools, specifically the improper involvement of school resource officers in school discipline.  The Justice Department stresses, however, that school resource officers can foster positive interaction for students with law enforcement officers, who may act as mentors and role models for students.  In order for school resource officer programs to be successful, per the Justice Department, school resource officers must be “hired, trained, evaluated and integrated into the school community” and must avoid usurping the role of educators in school discipline matters, noting “if they are given responsibilities more appropriately carried out by educators—negative outcomes, including violations of students’ civil rights, can and have occurred.”

Both Dear Colleague Letters encourage local educational agencies to utilize the new SECURe rubric in order to implement successful school resource officer programs.  The SECURe rubric includes five common-sense “Action Steps” to “ensure safe school-based enforcement through collaboration, understanding, and respect within a community’s schools.”  The Action Steps include:

  1. Create sustainable partnerships and formalize Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) among school districts, law enforcement agencies, juvenile justice entities, and civil rights and community stakeholders;
  2. Ensure that MOUs meet constitutional and statutory civil rights requirements;
  3. Recruit and hire effective school resource officers and school personnel;
  4. Keep your school resource officers and school personnel well trained; and
  5. Continually evaluate school resource officers and school personnel, and recognize good performance.

The SECURe rubric also includes a “Checklist to Start” for districts implementing new school-police partnerships. Districts with an existing program are encouraged to use the “Checklist to Improve” to improve their existing partnerships for “responsible and innovative school safety management practices that include the presence of SROs in schools.”

The full text of U.S. Department of Education’s Dear Colleague Letter can be found here.  The full text of the Department of Justice’s Dear Colleague Letter can be found here.  The local educational agency SECURe Rubric can be found here.

Questions or Assistance:
For more information about the Dear Colleague Letters or the SECURe Rubric, please contact Jessica Soufer at jsoufer@goodwin.com or 860-251-5822 or Jessica Ritter at jritter@goodwin.com or 860-251-5034.