On Wednesday, the Virginia Commission on Youth met in Richmond to review the role of school resource officers (SRO) in the commonwealth. 

The group is made up of nine members of the General Assembly and three citizens who were appointed by the governor. 

“The purpose of today’s meeting was to really learn about the SRO program,” said chair Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington). 

Favola said SROs play a critical role inside schools.

“This is where children first come into contact with law enforcement,” she said. “It’s really in the public schools.”

The commission heard a few presentations during the meeting. The first was titled “School Safety in Virginia: An Overview of Laws, Trainings, and Resources” by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

Donna Michaelis, manager of the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, shared that the number of security personnel and SROs have been increasing in schools since 2005. She said bullying, physical fighting and students who reported carrying weapons have all decreased. 

“What we heard is that the SROs are not escalating that school-to-prison pipeline,” said Favola. “We really believe the SROs can play a preventive role and that’s what we really have to look at, at how we can do better.”

SROs have been placed in Virginia schools since the mid-1980s. 

According to DCJS, 53 percent of Virginia schools have full-time and part-time SROs. 

The second presentation was from from Virginia Tech. It covered two studies. One was called “What the Data Tell Us: Influences on Keeping Kids in the Classroom, and Out of the Courtroom.”

The other was titled “An Investigation of School Resource and Safety Programs, Policy and Practice in Virginia.”

That presentation revealed the top five areas where SROs need more training — working with students with special needs, mental health issues in childhood and adolescence, dangerous/threatening students, bullying and establishing effective working relationships with parents. 

Favola said the commission is still working on developing recommendations and possible legislation. They have another meeting in December.