Police in Schools is Not the Answer
The January 2013 policy brief issued by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools Campaign, and the Alliance for Education Justice gives us the following, well researched, case against more police in schools as an answer to the Newton shooting. The brief also provides more measured solutions to violence in our communities.
Gun control is in the conversation as an answer to the Sandy Hook shootings and others around the country. However, since the shooting was at a school in Newton, the focus is on school safety. The reactive response has been to propose armed officers in schools, increased law enforcement presence, deploying the National Guard and arming teachers. These proposals create “the appearance of safety rather than…actually creating truly safe schools”. New York City Mayor Bloomberg response to these proposals (correctly) asserts “You would be in a prison”.
Currently there is a movement around the country to “reduce the role of law enforcement in schools.” Increasing police and armed personnel in schools would reverse this trend.
The takeaway is:
In a post-Columbine world schools around the country saw increased law enforcement presence, security guards, zero-tolerance policies, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras. This led to an increased number of students arrested for minor offenses; not for weapons or activities that impact school safety which the measures were supposed to address. The measures furthered the perception that schools were becoming more violent.
“The distinction between school safety and school discipline has been blurred.” The brief notes the disproportionate minority, urban youth contact in spite of” the fact that Columbine shooting took place in a suburban and majority white community.” Although Colorado is taking steps to reverse this school to prison pipeline, the policies have created long lasting impacts which still exist.
Rather than repeat the failed measures implemented nationwide after the Columbine shootings, we must learn from them.
For example, this incident of school based law enforcement responding to age appropriate behavior or minor events which do not impact school safety or the safety of any individuals:
“In May 2012, an honors student in Houston, Texas was forced to spend a night in jail when she missed class to go to work to support her family.”
This one example of many alludes to the systemic problem of student referrals directly to the juvenile justice system. Students of color are disproportionately burdened; incidents that receive little to no response in white communities result in “severe consequences in communities of color.” Referrals to the juvenile justice system is significant in that “...a first-time arrest doubles the odds that a student will drop out of high school and a first-time court appearance quadruples the odds.”
Increased police presence in schools creates a hostile environment, impacts the ability of educators to build trust relationships that advance learning. Ethnographic and qualitative data show that students “feel like criminals”, distrust authority and fellow students. Violence in schools is increased. Students are disenfranchised and the creative, collaborative environment necessary for learning is defeated. There is a disconnect between measures for school safety adopted by law enforcement and security and school discipline grounded in developmentally appropriate approaches by school administers.
The policy brief concludes with measures to ensure real school and community safety rather than just the appearance of safe schools. Actions, education, and programs that create connections, positive school climate, and communication are the proven methods to foster safe environments. Conflict resolutions programs and restorative justice processes create a climate and culture of of inclusiveness, community solutions to harm, and the ability of youth to create trusting relationships with adults. Restorative practices have been proven to decrease violence. And finally, redirecting federal funding from “Secure our Schools” grants to programs and training that promote strong, connected, trusting communities.
Photo credit: http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2013/01/palm_beach_mayors_call_for_met.php