To the Editor:
As evidenced in Johanna Wald and Lisa Thurau’s Commentary “Taking Safety Too Far?” (Feb. 24, 2010), there is a growing voice critical of the number of arrests police make in schools. As a former state police officer and 21-year school central-office administrator who is now a school safety consultant, I feel compelled to respond.
One child arrested at school is one too many. But there unfortunately are cases in which, for the protection of the majority of students and teachers, such action is sometimes necessary.
Three steps have to happen before a child is arrested. First, the student must exhibit inappropriate behavior. Second, a school administrator must determine that the behavior is beyond the control or the resources of the school, that the behavior may constitute a crime, and that calling the police is warranted. Third, the police, after investigating, must conclude that the student’s actions do in fact constitute a crime, and that probable cause exists for making an arrest.
The focus of criticism appears to be on the third link in this chain. But shouldn’t we also consider the first two, the harmful behavior of the student and the training and guidelines given administrators?
Some of the “new and innovative programs” touted as alternative disciplinary models boil down to schools being required to tolerate more out-of-control behaviors. Before police can be called, a student must be given three or four warnings, for example.
I do not favor a forced quota system of criminal tolerance, nor do most school administrators. Most educators have the best interests of students in mind and want to provide nothing more than a safe and healthy learning environment. The police are one tool they may use to do that.
My fear is that we will tie administrators’ hands and harm their ability to deal with inappropriate and violent behavior. To replace their decisionmaking with a formula developed by legislators or other people with no real-life school experience is truly a step backward for school safety.
Hibbert Safe School Consulting
A version of this article appeared in the April 07, 2010 edition of Education Week as Tying Educators’ Hands In School Safety Efforts