Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Matt Haas said he plans to ask the school board to install a school resource officer at Albemarle High School after parents there complained about sexual assault, weekly brawls, truancy, vaping and more.
If approved, it will be an about-face for the school board, which voted 2 1/2 years ago to remove school resources officers from all county schools.
“We’re going to try to start building things back,” Haas told The Daily Progress. “I think … working with the police department to hire and assign a highly effective, well-trained school resource officer to work in that community will be very important.”
Parents have told The Daily Progress that at least one incident of sexual assault occurred at Albemarle High School in October and involved the school’s junior varsity football team. While the school division has acknowledged an “incident” occurred, it has never identified it as sexual assault.
The Albemarle County Police Department told The Daily Progress that multiple minors were charged with crimes in connection to the incident but declined to say how many received charges or what the charges were. The minors were referred to juvenile intake and the case was closed in November, authorities said.
Parents at a public meeting with school board member Judy Le on Tuesday said they believed school resource officers would keep the number of “incidents” down.
But before an officer can be hired, Haas must add one to the draft budget he presents to the school board in the spring and the school board must approve that addition. And it’s not clear that the school board has much of an appetite for reversing its unanimous 2020 decision to rid schools of officers altogether.
“I look forward to reviewing his proposal, its benefits, how it may differ from prior experiences and, most of all, how it will enhance the capabilities of the school to keep everyone as safe as possible,” school board member Katrina Callsen told The Daily Progress today.
Other members of the school board declined to respond or were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Back in 2020, school board members said that the daily presence of officers was unnecessary.
“Saying that police officers should not be on campus is not derogatory towards the police officers,” then-school board member David Oberg said at the time. “I think we absolutely have to have a relationship with the fire department, but we don’t have fire personnel on site all the time. We have to have, frequently, physicians and paramedics, but we don’t have those on site all the time.”
Research on the effectiveness of school resource officers in preventing violence is mixed. A study from the University at Albany and the RAND Corporation said that officers reduce some violence in lower grades but have little impact on school shootings. An April 2022 report from the National Education Association said that the presence of officers in schools can be harmful to students of color and disabled students, who are disciplined at higher rates than their white and able-bodied peers.
Any new officers in county schools will “not act as administrators or disciplinaries in school,” according to Haas, who said that is different from how officers work in other schools across the country.
County schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita said the school division would have more oversight over a new school resource officer, if one is approved, than it did in the past. Previously, officers were employees of the Albemarle County Police Department and the school division had limited authority over them.
Haas said concerns that an officer’s presence might disproportionately affect students of color and disabled students were “well-taken.”
“That’s why we’re starting with one, to see if one at our most at our largest, most diverse campus can help,” Haas said. If one is effective, he said he would try to add more.
It’s not clear how a school resource officer might prevent the misconduct Albemarle High School parents say they are most worried about, most of which they have said occurs in bathrooms, locker rooms and other private spaces.
Haas countered that school resource officers can contribute an overall environment of safety.
“What they do is, by having that presence at the school, building and working on relationships with students, they make the school a safer place in terms of the climate,” Haas said.