A group of parents in Maryland’s largest school district have a proposal to prevent school shootings that doesn’t require banning guns.
The group, Vigilance Not Vigils, is calling on Montgomery County to lift its ban on school resource officers—law enforcement agents assigned to respond to emergencies in local schools. The district defunded its resource officer program in March 2021, following complaints that officers disproportionately arrested minority students. Montgomery County Public Schools have seen an uptick in violent incidents since the district pulled resource officers, including the county's first school shooting in January.
Montgomery County replaced resource officers with community engagement officers, who work outside school buildings and are assigned to multiple schools. These off-site officers, whom schools contact through 911, are often delayed responding to incidents. Montgomery County parent Dana Noga told the Washington Free Beacon that engagement officers are a poor substitute for the resource officers they replaced—and that students feel their absence.
"Kids cannot learn if they don't feel safe," said Noga.
Montgomery County is one of the only school districts in the Washington, D.C., area without a resource officer program. All 25 district high school principals opposed County Executive Marc Elrich’s decision to pull resource officers from schools. But Elrich brushed aside their objections, claiming the move was necessary to protect minority students.
But a Montgomery County Police Department memo obtained by the Free Beacon shows that resource officers did not target black and Hispanic students. Between August and December, resource officers made just 11 arrests in Montgomery County Public Schools. Six detainees were white students, while four were black.
Don Bridges, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said there’s no validity to charges of racism against resource officers.
"I have been a man of color my entire life, and I can't begin to tell you about the hundreds and maybe thousands of kids of color that I've had positive relationships with, how many weddings I’ve gone to, how many graduations, and how many cookouts," Bridges told the Free Beacon.
Montgomery County lawmakers pledged to redirect resource officer funding toward new mental health programs and restorative justice training. The county said it would place 50 social workers in schools, but has only hired 33.
Bridges said preventing school shootings requires both resource officers and mental health programs.
"When we look at these parents in Texas who paid the ultimate price, the thing we should be saying is that we should be using both," Bridges said. "Our kids are dying, and we need to look at things differently."
Brandon Grubb, who graduated from Montgomery County’s Magruder High School in 2021, agrees that mental health and school resource officer programs are not mutually exclusive.
"There were blinders on to think that removing the resource officer program and replacing it with a mental health program was the answer, especially since the mental health program was not implemented in a timely manner," Grubb wrote in a letter to the Montgomery County Council and the Board of Education, which was obtained by the Free Beacon.
The push to increase resource officers is gaining traction at the national level. Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) on Wednesday introduced a bill that would redirect American Rescue Plan funds to double the number of officers in schools across the country.
But Anita Cox, a Montgomery County Public Schools parent and leader of Vigilance not Vigils, says the push for resource officers needs to begin closer to home.
"Instead of trying to go to Congress to look for a way to end this, we need to go down the street," Cox said.