Just two months after the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., left 20 children and six school staff members dead, the theoretical discussion about how best to secure the nation’s schools is making its way into reality. As schools work to tighten security measures, proposals for more police on campuses are now part of budget discussions across the region and across the country.
Police have become a central focus in many areas. President Obama has proposed $150 million in funding for school-based officers, psychologists, social workers or counselors. In Virginia, the governor’s school safety task force last week urged restoring state funding for such officers, which had been cut in recent years. The next day, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) urged the legislature to make restoring and enhancing that funding among its highest priorities.
Nationally,a Washington Post-ABC poll in January showed that 55 percent of the public would support placing armed police or trained security guards in the nation’s schools.
“People want to do something, and this seems to be the most direct way to improve school security,” said Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, who is pushing to expand police coverage by 15 positions at a cost of about $1.5 million in the first year and $1.3 million in later years.
For Stewart, the proposal is a turnaround: Last fall, he wanted to cut four school-based police positions to save more than $500,000. He said Sandy Hook shifted his thinking. “It’s not going to be cheap,” Stewart said, “but I think it’s going to be worthwhile.”
In Prince George’s, Michael E. Blow, the school system security director, recommended Thursday that the Board of Education spend about $8 million to enhance security at county schools in light of the Connecticut shootings. The proposal, made on behalf of Interim Superintendent Alvin Crawley, includes installing electronic-controlled access and panic buttons in the front offices of each school, installing cameras at 65 schools and creating the new police force.
The police force, which could serve warrants and make arrests, would cost $2 million and be similar to the force that patrols Baltimore city schools, said Briant Coleman, a spokesman for the school system.
“The gauntlet was dropped when that individual took the actions he took at Sandy Hook,” Blow said.
Still, budget constraints are widespread, and some argue that schools need more guidance counselors, not police. The National PTA, while lauding the larger Obama plan, voiced disappointment in the police expansion, saying schools should be completely gun-free. Civil rights groups warn that more police in schools will mean more arrests and citations, often for behavior that once meant a trip to the principal’s office.