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Friday  •  September 11, 2020

Unexpected & Concerning Vote on Whether to Remove School Resource Officers from HCPSS Schools

By Steven Keller

At the beginning of the September 10, 2020 HCPSS meeting, the Board of Education strayed off the agenda and held a surprising vote on whether or not to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from HCPSS schools.


Regardless of whether you believe SROs should stay in schools or be removed, the act of taking this vote last night and the way that the motion was presented should concern every HCPSS stakeholder.


All clips from this section of last night’s HCPSS meeting can be found below, in sequential order:

Superintendent Martirano Remarks on SROs in Schools

Mavis Ellis Black Lives Matter Statement

Student Member of the Board Proposes Motion to Remove SROs from Schools

Chao Wu Opinion

Kirsten Coombs Opinion

Mark Blom HCPSS Legal Opinion

Jen Mallo Friendly Amendment and Mark Blom Legal Opinion

Sabina Taj Opinion

Vicky Cutroneo Opinion

Christina Delmont-Small Opinion

Jen Mallo Followup Comments

Mavis Ellis Opinion, Chao Wu Concerns, and Final Vote

Superintendent Martirano set the table for this controversial vote in his opening report to the Board by bringing up the topic and announcing that he is open to examining the role that SROs play in HCPSS schools while students are in fully virtual mode. It should be noted that Dr. Martirano stated the following:

“I would ask the Board to hold off on taking any positions until we’ve had a chance to work with our county and police department leaders to engage our community as we review this partnership”


Board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis then made a personal speech regarding the Black Lives Matters movement prior to general Board member reports.


The Student Member of the Board then went on to make a motion to remove all SROs from HCPSS schools, since he was so moved by Ms. Ellis’s speech and since he had promised his supporters that he “wouldn’t stand neutral in the sights of injustice”Board member Sabina Taj quickly seconded the motion, with a noticeable lack of hesitation.


The Board then proceeded to discuss the motion, with at least 4 members of the Board having been completely blindsided by this motion (Wu, Cutroneo, Delmont-Small and Coombs). These Board members expressed their deep concerned with its procedural disregard and premature proposal before any alternative school safety plans had been developed.


Three concerns were raised by Board members who were blindsided by this motion:


1) Disregard of process — the issue of removing SROs from HCPSS schools had not been locally studied at all. Superintendent Martirano himself clearly had said just moments earlier that he requested the Board to not take a position on the matter until the issue had been reviewed with local county & police leadership, and after full community input had been received. Just as important, a suitable alternative school safety plan would be needed before the decision to remove SROs from schools and doesn’t currently exist.


2) Risks to students & staff safety — while students are in fully virtual mode, some staff are still in buildings. Voting to immediately remove SROs from schools would put at further risk anyone currently in HCPSS building since no adequate alternative plan had yet been developed.


3) The possibility that the motion had been pre-planned by select members of the Board prior to the meeting and without the cognizance of the full Board.


In video clip 12 above, BOE member Wu expresses deep concern about this, stating:

“I was totally surprised by this motion. I was wondering if you had some discussion before this motion. Did the Superintendent get involved? I’m just totally surprised that this has come out without supporting materials”


Kirsten Coombs and Vicky Cutroneo nodded in passive agreement at this deep concern.


Chair Ellis had no reply to this and just proceeded to call for the final vote.


In the end, four members of the Board voted to remove SROs from HCPSS schools (Mavis Ellis, Sabina Taj, Jen Mallo, and the Student Member), two members abstained (Chao Wu and Kirsten Coombs) and two members voted NO (Vicky Cutroneo and Christina Delmont-Small).


The fact that four members of the Board, particularly one who is up for re-election (Jen Mallo), voted to remove SROs from HCPSS schools without any studies conducted, without any alternative school safety plans lined up to replace SRO support, and in complete disregard of standard procedure, possibly with exclusive small-group pre-planning, is something that should concern all HCPSS stakeholders.


This is not how the Howard County Board of Education should operate.


UPDATE: Three members of the Board have released public statements & comments about this concerning vote:

Vicky Cutroneo

Christina Delmont-Small

Chao Wu


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