School systems did not take official positions on the issue Friday, but some elected officials’ opinions reflected a clear division on focusing on legislative change vs. a shift in schools’ approaches.
In Fairfax County, officials already knew how much it would cost to put officers in their 139 elementary schools: $20 million a year. Fairfax, like other suburban systems, assigns armed police — “school resource officers” — to middle and high schools. It has 53 such officers, spokesman John Torre said.
School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said she is not immediately convinced that more are needed. The Newtown tragedy is clearly cause for reexamination, she said, but she added that schools should carefully research their options and not rush to make changes. It’s important that elementary schools feel warm and welcoming, she said. “I wonder what message we send to these children if they come into a place with an armed officer,” she said.
Across the nation, there are “in excess of 10,000” gun-carrying police assigned to schools, according to Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. Still, few officers are based in elementary schools, nationally or locally, according to experts.
The District’s public school system appears to assign more police to its campuses than do school systems elsewhere in the region: There are 100 sworn school resource officers and 300 security guards in the city’s 123 schools.
A survey of other school systems showed that there are 27 sworn officers in Loudoun County; 22 in Prince George’s County; 19 in Prince William County; and six in Alexandria. Many school systems employ security personnel in large numbers.
In Montgomery County, there are six officers in 202 schools, and most security is handled by 200 specialists who do not carry guns, said Bob Hellmuth, head of school safety and security. Board of Education member Michael A. Durso (District 5), a former high school principal, said bringing police onto every campus is “extraordinarily impractical” at first glance.
Durso said the number of officers was scaled back for budget reasons, estimating that salary and benefits for one position costs $100,000 and that the system would need 200 more officers to cover all schools.
If the cost were federally funded, he said, that would change the equation,“but that’s easier said than done.”