Equity & Diversity

Get Police Out of Schools, Coalition of Student, Parent Groups Says

By Evie Blad — September 21, 2016 3 min read
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The Dignity in Schools Campaign called for the removal of law enforcement from schools Wednesday in a policy document that also calls for new forms of discipline and student supports, such as restorative justice programs.

The coalition is made up of “over 100 organizations in 27 states and the District of Columbia representing students, parents, advocates, and educators that promote alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization, and the dismantling of public schools.”

Its position paper, “Counselors Not Cops: Ending the Regular Presence of Law Enforcement in Schools,” comes a few weeks after federal officials released new resources, calling on schools to limit the roles of school-based officers and to ban their involvement in routine disciplinary issues that they said would be better addressed by school administrators. The federal guidance also called for better training and more carefully worded agreements between law enforcement agencies and schools.

But those recommendations didn’t go far enough, the Dignity in Schools Campaign said, calling for the removal of designated, on-site officers altogether.

“The presence of police in schools has escalated dramatically in the last several decades, and the figures on arrests and referrals to law enforcement show disproportionate targeting of Black and Latino students and students with disabilities,” the coalition said in a news release. “This is just one aspect of the school-to-prison pipeline, where some students are denied an opportunity to succeed, and instead are pushed out of school and into the juvenile or criminal justice system.”

Black students were more than twice as likely to be referred to law enforcement or arrested at school than their white peers in 2013-14, according to the latest data from the Education Department’s office for civil rights.

Civil rights advocates have said problems created by officers’ implicit biases and poorly defined roles within a school are exacerbated by broad school disciplinary codes and state laws that ban acts like “defiant behavior,” under which students are often inconsistently disciplined.

In addition to removing on-site officers, schools should carefully define the purpose of police that are called to the school to respond to calls, the Dignity in Schools Campaign said.

“On those rare occasions when it is appropriate for law enforcement to enter a school building, there should be agreements with police departments that limit the cases when law enforcement can be called in to a school, with particular safeguards in place to ensure students’ rights are protected,” the organization said.

The National Association of School Resource Officers, which trains and represents school-based police, largely agreed with the federal guidance.

“Like Education Secretary [John] King, we believe that administering formal school discipline belongs solely in the hands of educators, and that educators should be well trained to address behavioral issues through a variety of interventions that do not involve law enforcement officers,” the organization said in a statement.

Further reading about school police and school resource officers:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.