The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) continues to study possible changes to the way it uses police in its schools. The school board set up an ad hoc committee to study this issue over a period of 15 months. At a recent meeting of that committee, some advocates argued that police have no business in our schools. They argue that restorative justice is a better approach to resolving discipline problems. However, others believe that police presence in our schools is necessary.
A few years ago, I suggested that police presence in schools should be limited to genuine emergencies in order to avoid the kind of abuse which some police have perpetrated on students in school as depicted below from an incident in South Carolina. Subsequently, given that police presence continues in our schools, I urged that school based police officers need teen training in order to do their jobs successfully without fueling the school to prison pipeline.
In Oakland, California, police stationed in schools are taking a different approach. While they handle tough situations that can range from verbal altercations to weapons possession and sexual assaults, they are tasked with much more than providing security in Oakland schools. Using social and emotional learning (SEL) skills like empathy, self-awareness, and communication, officers are directed to build relationships with staff and students first, asking questions that might give them insight into why a student is upset or disengaged, or what really caused a fight.
The Oakland Unified School District started providing Social and Emotional Learning training to police stationed in its schools two years ago. The core competencies of SEL are:
- Self-Awareness-The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
- Self-Management-The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.
- Social Awareness-The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
- Relationship Skills-The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed; and
- Responsible Decision-Making-The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.
The Oakland school district started incorporating SEL into its curriculum in 2011, when it accepted the research that students with higher levels of social competence will not only do better in school, but they will have a better success rate in the workforce after school.
Like Madison and many other school districts nationwide, Oakland shares a problem with disproportionate discipline of students of color. To combat this problem, in 2015, Oakland started funding restorative justice programs and banned suspensions for “willful defiance” and “disruptive behavior.” Unfortunately, due to financial problems, Oakland’s SEL and restorative justice programs have been implemented piecemeal, with some schools seeing full adoption and others, none.
While I continue to question the need for police in schools outside of genuine emergencies, I have no doubt that if police are stationed in our schools, they cannot use the same techniques and training that prepare them for patrolling the streets, with children inside schools. The sooner police in schools receive training geared towards teenage behavior and social and emotional learning, the more success they will have in stemming the flow of the schools to prison pipeline instead of fueling its growth.
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.