Washington, DC – Yesterday, President Obama laid out an impressive plan to meaningfully address the causes of gun violence and highlighted the importance of fostering a nurturing school climate to help prevent school violence. Part of the President’s plan would enable U.S. schools to hire up to 1,000 more school police or school counselors. We are concerned by any plan that could result in more police in schools.
“What our schools need are programs that promote peaceful conflict resolution that will strengthen our communities,” said Dwayne Hoye, a member of Blocks Together and the Dignity in Schools Campaign, and a graduate of Orr Academy High school in Chicago, IL. “We already have approximately two police officers per public school in Chicago and in spite of that, I never felt any safer in my school. I wish they had used those resources to train my teachers and school staff on how to prevent conflict instead."
Schools around the country have invested heavily in security measures such as metal detectors, armed police officers and school resource officers (SROs), often with devastating results for students – especially students of color, LGTBQ students, and students with disabilities. As research by the American Psychological Association and others has shown, these measures, which are usually implemented along with “Zero Tolerance” discipline policies that employ suspensions and expulsions, have neither increased graduation rates nor made students feel safer. In fact, they have increased the time students spend out of school and increased arrests and referrals to the justice system – especially for nonviolent student behavior like “disrespect” – and further increased racial disparity in school exclusion and educational outcomes.
“Many kids don’t feel safe with armed security in schools. They’re not properly trained to respond to students’ problems,” said Xiomara Vazquez, a student and member of Sistas and Brothas United and the Dignity in Schools Campaign from the Bronx, NY. “They should invest in after-school programs, conflict resolution, peer mediation, safety plans and processes for the entire school instead of training and placing armed guards.”
The FBI, Secret Service, and the President’s proposal have noted that a key to preventing school violence is to improve the sense of connectedness and communication between students and school staff. While practices like positive behavior support, social and emotional learning, and restorative justice all help to improve such connectedness, research shows that involving law enforcement in school discipline can actually breed alienation and distrust.
Earlier this month, after President Obama asked Vice President Biden to lead a Gun Violence Task Force, the Dignity in Schools Campaign submitted a letter to the Vice President urging him to support the positive measures described above instead of relying on placing more weapons and police in schools.
This past week the DSC, together with the Advancement Project, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the Alliance for Education Justice issued a white paper outlining the problems already experienced by stationing police and armed guards in schools, and offering alternative recommendations.
Read more about the Dignity in Schools Campaign on NESRI's website.