One of the two national teachers’ unions has called on schools to create safe environments for students and staff without the direct involvement of local law enforcement.
In a resolution adopted Wednesday by the executive council of the American Federation of Teachers that also expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and for stricter police accountability, the union also said that the “necessary function of school safety should be separated from policing and police forces.”
“School security personnel should be trained as peace officers and integrated within the school community, with a focus on nonviolent resolution of conflicts with a minimal use of force,” the adopted resolution states. “The AFT will reconvene a unionwide conversation—including educators, students and parents—on how to transform school security to help achieve a safe and welcoming environment for students and staff, and not a militaristic police state that has criminalized Black and Brown students.”
Although “peace officer” can sometimes refer to a member of the police, a union spokesman subsequently clarified that a “peace officer” would mean someone not working for local law enforcement.
The AFT’s position was announced just over a week after the union—along with the National Education Association—signaled their support for congressional legislation that would usher in new use-of-force standards for police, create a database tracking police officers found guilty of misconduct, and other changes for law enforcement.
A bill that incorporated several of those elements, the Justice in Policing Act, was introduced by House Democrats a few days afterwards, but did not include any restrictions on police operating in schools. A bill on police reforms introduced by Republicans also did not include such limitations.
The AFT and NEA have previously shared worries about the presence of police officers in schools and their disproportionate arrests of black students. Yet their relationships with local law enforcement are complex.
And it’s obviously unclear to what extent the AFT’s resolution will change attitudes in local school districts.
A few school districts have severed their official ties with local police in the last few weeks; those decisions came after public pressure from youth activists and other groups. And the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis has caused educators around the country to engage in new discussions about whether it’s appropriate for police to work in schools.