Police in Schools? Only in Emergencies

The recent incident of police brutality in a South Carolina school makes clear that the trend of ever increasing police presence in our schools has gone too far. Last year, I settled a case of police brutality in a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin middle school, just before it went to trial. Both of these incidents illustrate exactly why police do not belong in school, other than in genuine emergencies.

SC police brutality

In both incidents, the students were not causing or threatening harm to anyone. Both students simply wanted to use their cell phones and failed to follow police orders not to do so. The result in both incidents was a violent use of force by the police officer simply because the children did not follow the police officer’s command.

Earlier this year the Center for Public Integrity produced eye-opening data revealing the number of school referrals to law enforcement on a state by state basis. The data should shock anyone who is concerned about the schools to prison pipeline. The worst state is Virginia which sends nearly 16 out of every 1000 students to law enforcement. Sadly, racial and disability disparities are also revealed. In Virginia, that rate jumps to over 25/1000 black students and over 33/1000 students with disabilities.

My own state of Wisconsin has the 7th highest rate sending over 10/1000 students to law enforcement, with similarly troubling racial and disability disparities. Wisconsin schools send 14/1000 black students to law enforcement and nearly 25/1000 students with disabilities are referred to law enforcement.

Due to this overuse of police in our schools, the National Disabilities Rights Network just issued its recommendations on school policing, earlier this week. Among the key recommendations are:

  • The role of School Resource Officers (SROs) should be limited to ensuring school safety in the manner expected of a sworn law enforcement officer. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) (school districts) should assess whether SROs working in their districts are being used to enforce non-violent school code violations, manage student behavior (including the behavior of students with disabilities who have behavior plans), and other non–law enforcement tasks. If so, they should remove SROs from the school environment or alter their role accordingly.
  • In any instance in which a SRO works in a school setting, the school districts should develop and publicize Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the relevant law enforcement agencies regarding the use of school based law enforcement. The purpose of the MOU is to make clear the role of the SRO in the school setting, and specifically to clarify that SROs may not be used enforce non-violent school code violations, manage student behavior (including the behavior of students with disabilities who have behavior plans), and other non– law enforcement tasks.
  • All law enforcement officers working in and around schools must know how to appropriately interact with individuals with disabilities.
  • All law enforcement officers working in and around schools must understand the developmental needs of children and youth, and how to interact with them successfully. This includes the need of all law enforcement officers to comply with Constitutional requirements in a manner that is developmentally appropriate for students of the age they will encounter in the course of their work.
  • State Education Agencies (SEAs) and LEAs should use reported data, including disaggregated data on school based arrests to guide school improvement plans and to highlight disparities (i.e. resources, discipline disparities). This data analysis should be used to ensure that LEAs are taking action to remedy disparities in school based arrests. Where they are not remedying disparities on their own, the federal government should enforce the law using the full extent of their authority.
  • All LEAs must report accurate data to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) in a timely manner. The US Department of Education (ED) should hold non-compliant districts accountable, including but not limited to, withholding administrative funds to grantees, and lowering scores when non-compliant districts compete for new federal education competitive grants. Competition scores should be increased for fully compliant districts. ED should report to the public when a sanction has been levied against a district for failing to report as required, in order to improve confidence in the reporting system. This compliance must include reporting of school based arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
  • Require implicit bias training for schools and/or districts that are under consent decrees or that have significant disproportionality in discipline, referrals to juvenile justice, access to programs and/or resources.
  • Requiring SEAs with schools and districts that have high levels of exclusionary discipline, or disproportionality in rates of exclusionary discipline, to provide the following training/professional development to school staff and SROs, at a frequency based on a quarterly review of discipline/school removal data and law enforcement referral data.

    o IDEA (federal special education law) discipline policies and requirements
    o Crisis management
    o Data-driven, evidence-based prevention and responsive strategies (including such approaches as restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)
    o De-escalation strategies
    o Understanding and responding to the effects of trauma o Culturally responsive practices
    o Implicit bias

    Finally, school districts identified as having elevated school-based arrest rates remove SROs from the school environment as soon as possible.

    The bottom line is that police do not belong in schools to enforce school discipline policies. They should only be used in cases of violent emergencies.

    ______________________________________________________________

    For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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