ACLU: Police programs disproportionately affect students

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska's school police programs disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU of Nebraska released a report Thursday that says such programs fuel a "school to prison" pipeline. The report cites several cases where police were called over, including one involving brothers in elementary school yelling and cursing at each other. Another case involved a school employee who sought police help after a student stole a candy bar from her desk.

As a result of having a permanent police presence in schools, children are far more likely to face school-based arrests for disciplinary matters than they were a generation ago, said Rose Godinez, the ACLU's legal and policy counsel for Nebraska.

"A school-based arrest is the quickest route from the classroom to the courthouse," Godinez, who co-authored the report, told the Omaha World-Herald.

The report found that more than 1,500 students in public schools with school police were referred to law enforcement during the 2015-16 school year. About 200 of those were for wellness checks, traffic offenses, truancy and offenses that occurred off school grounds. About 56 percent of Nebraska school districts with school police don't require that parents be notified when their child is questioned about an incident at school.

The report notes that some schools have police but no counselor, social worker or nurse. And in some districts, students of color and students with disabilities accounted for twice as large a share of students referred to police than their share of the student population.

In Lincoln Public Schools, students of color made up 33 percent of the student population but accounted for 70 percent of students referred to police. In Omaha Public Schools, students with disabilities accounted for 18 percent of the student population but 44 percent of students referred to police.

Lincoln Public Schools official Russ Uhing said the district is working to address the disparities, including through student diversion programs and training for school administrators about when police referrals are appropriate.

Omaha Police Capt. Russ Horine noted that referral decisions are made by school officials but said more data would be helpful in understanding the apparent disparities.

"We don't want to bring students into the system if we can help that," Horine said.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com


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