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Brief for Parent Centers on School Resource Officers

Brief for Parent Centers on School Resource Officers

A briefing paper for Parent Centers
from the Center for Parent Information and Resources

Read This Brief If…

…the school system in your community, district, or state places (or is considering placing) sworn law-enforcement officers in public schools as part of building a safe learning environment for students.

This Brief Expands Upon…
…OSEP’s Dear Colleague Letter on the Use of School Resource Officers (SROs) in Schools, released September 8, 2016, and available online at:

About the Dear Colleague Letter
The Secretary of Education released this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) to express the Department’s increasing concern that school discipline is being administered by school resource officers (SROs), who are law-enforcement officers based in schools. There are many reasons for the Department’s concern, including:

  • the potential for violations of students’ civil rights;
  • the unnecessary citations or arrests of students in schools; and
  • the unnecessary and harmful introduction of children and young adults into a school-to-prison pipeline.

Call to Action
In the Dear Colleague Letter, Secretary King states: “As education leaders, you can empower schools, educators, and staff with the skills and capacity to avoid relying on SROs in the first place (emphasis added) and also eliminate SRO-related school discipline policies and practices that may harm young people and needlessly contribute to their involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

Basic Facts about SROs

Federal definition of an SRO | A school resource officer (SRO), by federal definition, is a career law enforcement officer with sworn authority who is deployed in community-oriented policing and assigned to work in collaboration with schools and community-based organizations to fulfill specific duties. (1)

Appropriate duties of an SRO | Included in the federal definition of an SRO are such duties as:

  • educating students in crime and illegal drug use prevention and safety;
  • developing or expanding community justice initiatives for students; and
  • training students in conflict resolution, restorative justice, and crime and illegal drug use awareness. (2)

Three main roles of an SRO emerge from this list, which the National Association of School Resource Officers summarizes as: educator (i.e., guest lecturer), informal counselor/mentor, and law enforcement officer. (3)

How many SROs are there? | No one really knows how many SROs are working in our schools, but data from the 2015-16 school year indicate that approximately 42% of public schools have at least one full- or part-time SRO. (4) That’s roughly 41,200 schools in the country. (5)

SROs and Students with Disabilities

Disproportionate disciplinary practices | Current data are clear that exclusionary discipline practices—including suspension, expulsion, and arrest—are disproportionately applied to students with disabilities (and to students of color). (6) This Dear Colleague Letter on SROs adds to the resources already issued by the U.S. Department of Education regarding discriminatory practices in how students with disabilities are disciplined at school. The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly cautioned school systems against such practices, most notably in ED’s January 2014 Dear Colleague letter (available in English and Spanish) (7) and in the School Discipline Guidance Package of 2014. (8)

What SROs need and most often lack | Research shows that most SROs have received little or no training in many issues that disability and legal advocates see as essential to their role in schools. (9) Among these are: how to work with young people, cognitive differences between juveniles and adults, techniques for defusing a volatile situation, and alternatives to physical intervention and other exclusionary practices. The list is longer when considering how to interact appropriately and legally with students with disabilities. SROs need training on how student behavior can be affected by various disabilities; the rights of students with disabilities under IDEA, the ADA, and Section 504; and the protections that these laws provide.

Recommendations and How-To’s

From OSEP’s Dear Colleague Letter on SROs
“School districts that choose to use SROs should incorporate them responsibly into school learning environments and ensure that they have no role in administering school discipline” (emphasis added).

There are numerous experts who can speak to best practices in (a) deciding whether to use SROs as part of creating a positive school climate, and (b) establishing an effective program for school-based policing. We list 3 such resources below.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice | Safe School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe)

The SECURe Implementation Rubrics are designed to help school districts, schools, and law enforcement agencies determine the type of school-police partnership that will be most effective in their community and, where appropriate, to incorporate SROs into the school learning environment. There is a local implementation rubric and a state and local policy rubric. Parent Centers can and should be involved in the local and state policy discussions and decision-making process.

School Safety Net | Role of the School Resource Officer Tutorial
This free online tutorial can help users understand the role of SROs and their responsibilities; the issues related to researching, developing, and implementing an effective SRO; and the importance of the partnership between the school administrator and the SRO in maintaining a safe school environment.

Additional Readings

What is a School Resource Officer? (Resource added, 2019)
From the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), U.S. Department of Justice, which funds grants that grow community policing efforts (including SROs) and provides training and technical assistance to its grantees and via its website.

School Resource Officers: A Policy Option to Improve School Safety | From the Education Commission of the States (Resource added, 2019)
This is a short 2018 blog summarizing what state legislatures are considering on the issue of school safety, including the use of SROs.

School Discipline Consensus Report Highlight Video
8-minute video

Schooling the Police: Race, Disability, and the Conduct of School Resource Officers
A detailed examination of current data, legal imperatives and court cases, disability protections under the law, the history of SROs in our schools, and recommendations for needed training.

School Resource Officers: Safety Priority or Part of the Problem?

Why So Few School Cops Are Trained to Work With Kids
Only 12 states mandate that school resource officers receive student-specific preparation.

What We Know About the Effectiveness of Assigning Police Officers to Schools
Despite their popularity, few studies are available that have reliably evaluated the effectiveness of SROs.

Deciding Whether and How to Assign Police Officers to Schools


The Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, 20 U.S.C. § 7161 (2012). Definitions are online at:


Congressional Research Service. (2018, July). School resource officers: Issues for Congress [R45251]. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Online at:

National Center for Education Statistics (2019, January). Number of public school districts and public and private elementary and secondary schools: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2015-16 [Table 214.10]. Digest of Education Statistics, 2017. Washington, DC: Author. Online at:


U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice. (2014, January). Dear colleague letter on the nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline. Washington, DC: Authors.  (Available in English and in Spanish.)

The School Discipline Guidance Package 2014 is available online at:

Merkwae, A. (2015). Schooling the police: Race, disability, and the conduct of school resource officers. Michigan Journal of Race and Law, 21(1), 146-181. Online at:

SOURCE ARTICLE: Center for Parent Information & Resources