Avoiding SRO-MOU Mistakes

Written by: Daniel L. Lautar, Esq.

Don’t be caught off guard when bargaining an SRO-MOU with your local police force. A school resource officer (“SRO”) can only be appointed to provide services to a district or school if there is a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) between his/her law enforcement agency and the school district.  R.C. 3313.951.  School districts usually try to come to terms on an SRO-MOU with their local police force during the summer months, so that arrangements can be made by both organizations before the start of the following school year.  When negotiating over an SRO-MOU, the following subjects should be addressed:

1) Make clear that while serving as an SRO, the police officer is acting as an employee of the law enforcement agency and not the board of education.  A corollary to this is language providing that the law enforcement agency will maintain workers’ compensation insurance and liability insurance for the police officer appointed as SRO.

2) While an SRO will need to retain the authority to exercise police powers, the SRO-MOU should specify that the parties intend to avoid arrest and to “decrease the number of youth formally referred to the juvenile justice system.”  See R.C. 3313.951(C)(2)(g).  Most student altercations and behavioral problems are adequately handled by a school district’s disciplinary system.  Arrests and referrals for prosecution should be restricted by the SRO-MOU to serious criminal conduct, such as felonies.

3) Require the SRO to notify district administrators in advance of any planned student searches, interrogations, or arrests.  In addition to keeping the district apprised of criminal matters on campus, an advanced warning allows the district to make notifications to the student’s parents, as is commonly required under board policy, and to alert other staff members who need to know of the student’s whereabouts.

4) Establish the conditions under which the SRO will be granted access to student records, including security camera footage.  An SRO who is conducting an independent criminal investigation likely does not have a legitimate educational interest in a student’s educational records under federal student privacy law, and security footage may constitute an educational record under FERPA.  Therefore, it is advisable to have the MOU require a subpoena before student educational records, such as security camera footage, are supplied to an SRO or his/her employing law enforcement agency.

5) Mandate that the police officer appointed to provide services to the school district as an SRO completes a minimum of 40 hours of specialized SRO training within one year after appointment.  R.C. 3313.951(B)(1)(b).  If the officer fails to complete such training, the law enforcement agency should be required to appoint another officer to perform the job.

If you need help bargaining an SRO-MOU for your district or would like your current SRO-MOU reviewed for areas of improvement, contact the attorneys at Pepple & Waggoner today.