As local school districts prepare for students’ return, some of the region’s largest school districts are expanding their use of School Resource Officers.

Chesapeake announced last week they would place school resource officers in elementary schools. Chesapeake Police already provide SROs in the city’s public middle and high schools.

“We were looking at a way to provide additional security and safety to our elementary schools,” Chesapeake Superintendent Jared Cotton told WHRO.

“Law enforcement, on site, ready to help and provide assistance and build those relationships … we’ve learned from our school resource program that’s so important in our schools today.”

Cotton said the district’s elementary schools have been divided into seven “boroughs,” that will be assigned to one deputy. The eighth deputy will act as a substitute or provide additional coverage as needed.

“We've really been working creatively to support our elementary schools with safety,” Cotton said at a recent school board meeting.

In Newport News, the district’s school board was briefed on the hiring of 45 new school resource officers, 10 substitute SROs and three supervisors for the new school year.

The district now has 115 resource officers for its more than 40 school buildings. 

In addition to the officers, every public Newport News school has a weapons detection system and the district is distributing clear backpacks for students, staff told the school board.

The efficacy of SROs is mixed: While school leaders, including local ones, say they help student safety, other studies say there’s not enough evidence to say resource officers improve safety.

Studies, like one from the National Institute of Justice, also note SROs can have harmful effects on students like “physical harm, increased use of exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspension from schools), arrests, and differential experiences with school policing depending on student race, ethnicity, and disability status and sex.”

In Virginia, SROs must complete special training before working in schools. Chesapeake’s newest SROs completed the training this month, according to Superintendent Cotton.

Topics in the training  include systemic and individual racism; working with students with disabilities, mental health needs or substance use disorders; and child and adolescent brain research. 

A note of transparency: Chesapeake and Newport News public schools are a member of HRETA, which holds WHRO’s license.