OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate passed a bill regarding school resource officer training in a bipartisan — 48 in favor and one excused — vote on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 5141 outlines specific training requirements, like de-escalation techniques, along with adding grant funding and new requirements for school and law enforcement agreements.
The bill adds a clear definition of school resource officers, and their goals. Usually referred to as SROs, the officers are commissioned law enforcement professionals often from local police or sheriff departments, who work in schools.
Chair of the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, spoke in favor of this bill as part of the Senate’s school safety package, like anti-bullying, requirements for law enforcement to notify nearby schools of a lockdown, and youth extreme risk protection orders.
“It’s important to have people in place that know the children and speak to the children are someone they can come to,” said Wellman. “I think that it will continue to help our school safety issues.”
Each year, school districts with resource officers would review and adopt an agreement with the local law enforcement agency in a process that they create, but must involve parents, students, and community members.
The agreement must include: a statement that SROs cannot be involved in student discipline or school rule enforcement, create district policy and procedure for teachers to identify when officers can be asked to intervene with students, data collection and reporting plan, a system for families to file complaints about SROs, and confirmation that SROs have completed all required training.
School districts would retain the right to choose if they want a SRO. The bill creates a definition for SROs, acknowledging that they have the authority to make arrests but should keep their policing community-oriented.
The bill pushes restraint in connecting students to the criminal justice system, “school resource officers should focus on keeping students out of the criminal justice system when possible and should not be used to attempt to impose criminal sanctions in matters that are more appropriately handled within the educational system.”
School districts or law enforcement agencies fund resource officer positions, sometimes with combined funding. The bill would create a grant program under the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction to fund this new training. Training and agreement requirements would need to be met by the start of the 2020-21 school year.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Emma Epperly is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.