Still, “it’s horrendous,” Salmon said as the Maryland State Board of Education discussed the matter Tuesday afternoon. She said she had earlier raised the issue with school superintendents across the state.
“We can’t keep this up,” she said. “It is a huge, huge concern. And it’s not gotten any better, except in a very small number of systems.”
Board member Clarence C. Crawford said it was important that disparities not become normalized.
“The thing that troubles me is that none of this stuff is new, and we keep coming back every year with the same thing,” he said. “And personally, I just find that absolutely unacceptable. . . . This has to be addressed and stopped.”
Advocates who have pushed to remove police from public schools cite racial disproportionality as a major concern. When police are stationed in schools, they say, more student infractions tend to be criminalized — and students of color are too often arrested.
But Salmon and at least two state board members expressed support for school-based police.
“Our school resource officers are often the first people that are on the scene to help our students that are in trauma,” said Salmon, noting that the state had trained 1,000 school resource officers last summer on a variety of topics.
Board member Gail H. Bates said the state should do more to promote school resource officers to the public, calling them a vital resource. “They provide help to keeping people from getting into other problems,” she said.
Questions about police presence on campus have flared in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the state’s two largest school systems. Prince George’s postponed discussion of the issue until September. Montgomery’s school board voted unanimously to study it and decide in January whether to modify or scrap its resource officer program.
White students represent a slightly larger share of the student population than black students in Maryland. But nearly 1,800 school-related arrests involved black students, compared with 900 that involved white students.
In all, Maryland had 3,141 school-related arrests in 2018-2019, the year examined in the report. The data shows most arrests took place on school grounds or inside school buildings, but some were related to school activities or conduct on school buses. More than 80 percent of the arrests were made by “school resource officers.”
For the year of the report, Maryland’s student body of nearly 900,000 was 37 percent white, 34 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 5 percent multiracial. The makeup of school-related arrests was very different: 56 percent black, 28 percent white, 8 percent Hispanic, 6 percent multiracial and less than 1 percent Asian.
The data reflects a trend that goes back at least several years, when Maryland began compiling numbers, and is another sign of racial disparities in police contact, as the nation has been roiled by protests focused on racism and police violence after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The demonstrations have sparked debate about practices in schools, refocusing attention on school-related arrests and school-assigned police.
In Maryland, the report showed, most arrests affected teenagers, but younger children were arrested, too: About 70 arrests involved those in elementary school, and more than 1,000 arrests involved Maryland middle schools. In some cases, students were physically taken into custody, but more often “paper arrests” were done, with referrals to the juvenile justice system.
Arrest numbers had dropped in school systems in Montgomery and Prince George’s. Montgomery had 163 arrests, down from 304 in 2015-2016, and Prince George’s had 311, down from 588.
A spokeswoman said Prince George’s schools would “continue to take a critical look at practices that needlessly steer students toward the criminal justice system” and emphasize student interventions, mental health support and restorative approaches.
A Montgomery schools spokesman said the system was “committed to ensuring safe schools and preventing the criminalization of students” by working with police and providing cultural proficiency training to staff.
With a focus on learning, the state board approved the formation of a task force on achieving academic equity and excellence for black male students.