The MLO Minute: By Heather Hulse, JD, MS, MA
Many school districts across the state of Pennsylvania are utilizing School Resource Officers (“SROs”) in school buildings. It is important for parents and guardians of special education students to be particularly aware of the rights of their child. It is also imperative for school districts, as well as law enforcement personnel to have a comprehensive understanding of the role of SROs, especially as it pertains to special education students.
SROs should not be utilized to manage the behaviors of students. Thus, not only should they not be utilized to manage the behaviors of special education students, but SROs should not be managing the behaviors of regular education students as well. Federal law provides that the duties of SROs include: 1) educating students in crime and illegal drug use prevention and safety; developing or expanding community justice initiatives for students; and 2) training students in conflict resolution, restorative justices, and crime and illegal drug use. 42 U.S.C. § 3796dd-8. School districts should have special education professionals to address the behaviors of special education students because that is not the duty of a SRO. This does not mean, however, that SROs do not have the authority to arrest students if there is criminal behavior. SROs do have the right to arrest regular education and special education students.
A school district has an obligation to ensure that SROs present in school district buildings are properly trained and certified in restraining students, including special education students.
The National Association of School Resource Officers (“NASRO”) requires that every law enforcement agency that places an officer in a school should have in place a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), signed by the administrators of both the law enforcement agency and the educational institution. NASRO recommends that the MOU require that all SROs be carefully selected law enforcement officers who have received specialized SRO training in the use of police powers and authority in a school environment. More importantly, NASRO requires that SROs receive training specifically regarding the needs of special education students.
In a recent 42 U.S.C. § 1983 matter, Wordlow v. Chicago Bd. of Ed., 73 IDELR 117 (2018) – the Court found that a school district must defend claims asserted by the family of a six-year old special education student related to the SRO’s decision to handcuff her for taking candy from her teacher. The decision made clear that every school district should have procedures in place to ensure that security personnel, or SROs, receive appropriate training on how to interact with students, including those with disabilities. If a school district fails to provide such training, it could find itself liable for any constitutional violations its employees might commit.
Thus, parents of special education students should seek legal consultation, which our office offers at no cost to families, if they believe their child has been inappropriately restrained by a SRO or if their school district is inappropriately utilizing SROs to manage their special education child’s behaviors. Please also keep in mind that if your child is not yet identified as a special education student but is demonstrating behaviors that warrant interactions with SROs or school district special education professionals, your child may very well should be identified as a special education student. Do not hesitate to contact our firm by clicking here or by calling 610-648-9300.