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Counselors Not Cops Act Would Shift Funding For School Resources Officers Toward Paying For More Counselors

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- There's a debate brewing over how to keep kids safe in Maryland classrooms, either with police officers or more counseling.

Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery County) says to truly keep kids safe, the state must move away from policing students with school resource officers.

That's why she's introduced the Counselors Not Cops Act (House Bill 496).

"It's about promoting school safety and shifting our priorities to actual evidence-based practices that create safe and supportive environments," Wilkins said.

A 2018 state law requires school districts to have "adequate law enforcement coverage" at each school and provides $10 million a year for the program.

The new bill would shift that funding toward paying for counselors, school workers and other support services.

READ MORE: Bills To Watch This Session In The Maryland General Assembly

Advocates argue that school resource officers don't make schools safer or deter school shootings. They also say some officers unfairly target minority students.

"The school officer asked all my friends if they were from Maryland. When he comes to me and looks at me he asked me, 'Are you born in the United States?'" Jorge Benitez Perez, a community organizer with CASA, said.

Others say school resource officers drive up arrests of students for minor infractions.

"The first child I ever saw get hemmed up by a police officer was seven years old for flailing his arms and knocking his teacher's glasses off her face," Ongisa Ichile-Mckenzie, the executive director of Southern Marylanders for Racial Equality, said.

But some say school resource officers should stay in schools. Delegate Reid Novotny, a Republican representing portions of Carroll and Howard counties, argues for reform when there are issues.

"Back in 2018 when this bill was originally passed in the legislature, there was a rash of school shootings. We need to have safe schools, but that doesn't mean we can't have counselors and school resource officers in those schools," Novotny said.

This bill goes along with another proposed bill in the house that would remove school resource officers from schools. It's called Police Free Schools

Wilkins says they both have a lot of momentum right now in the house.

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