Magruder shooting revives SRO debate

Seyun Park

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Photo by Seyun Park

Former WJ SRO Shate Jackson was temporarily placed back in school following the Magruder HS shooting. However, the move is not expected to be permanent.

The shooting of a student at Magruder High School on Friday, Jan. 28, rocked schools all across MCPS. In response to this shooting, MCPS has announced it will be conducting a comprehensive security review. One of the key proposals it will be examining is bringing police back into schools after their removal previously this school year.

School Resource Officers or SROs are police officers stationed in schools, mandated by Maryland state law. Starting this school year, the Board of Education shifted from SROs to “Community Engagement Officers” who still serve specific schools and the overall community, though they are not based in schools.

This change came with both praise and controversy, as many debated the merits of removing police from schools. However, others advocated for the move to increase racial equity citing that police have been shown to arrest black and Hispanic students at disproportionate rates compared to white students. With SROs absent from schools, the security team continues to work to keep the school environment safe; however, unlike SROs, in-school security is not armed.

At Magruder on Jan. 28, school security first found the injured student in a bathroom at 12:53. Police were called at 12:57 and the Community Engagement Officer for the school, Sgt. Jason Cupeta, arrived at 1:12, with backup police arriving around 1:30. The school went into lockdown at 1:05 and students were dismissed around 4 hours later after the suspect was taken into custody.

Following the incident, MCPS stated that Sgt Cupeta would be in school daily for at least a week, and additional officers were positioned at the school during arrival and dismissal times. However, both MCPS Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight and County Executive Marc Elrich have indicated that there is no intention of returning SROs to MCPS schools.

“No one’s produced any argument that an SRO would have produced anything different in this incident. They’re not personal bodyguards. There’s no panacea [where] if there was an SRO there’s no way this would have happened,” Elrich said.

The Montgomery County Police have also stated they do not intend on returning SROs to schools. “We are working with MCPS to identify what would be a best plan. We are not planning right now to go back to the old SRO program,” Montgomery County police chief Marcus Jones said.

However, many in the community have advocated the return of SROs. “SROs are necessary in schools to protect students. Obviously, having a police officer on campus isn’t ideal, and the long-term solution is investing in community-building programs, but violent incidents like the one we saw at Magruder have increased, and having a trained and armed officer on campus would make me feel safer,” one freshman said.

All 23 principals of MCPS high schools, including WJ Principal Jennifer Baker, have publicly supported the continued presence of SROs in the past. The security team has also commented that they do not think SROs are unfair to African American and Hispanic students.

WJ, like other schools in the county, has experienced an increase in violent incidents, including a fight during the playoff football game between WJ and BCC and a fight between students at Georgetown Square in which one student brandished a knife. Security was quickly involved; however, both incidents required police intervention.