Police Guards Too Often Criminalize School Culture

After the tragic shootings last December at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the United Church of Christ joined partners,  Advancement Project and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, by signing their statement, Police in Schools Are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting.  The statement protests President Obama’s redirection of federal funding to hire additional school resource officers (police) as school security guards.

Advancement Project has demonstrated in study after study that posting police guards at school criminalizes the atmosphere in too many public schools and washes too many children and adolescents into the juvenile justice system.

An important new article in the American Prospect rues the growing role of police guards in public schools: Teacher, May I Plead the Fifth?  “Starting in the mid-1990s, federal funding and a heightened suspicion of juveniles led to a large increase in the number of law-enforcement officials with a regular presence in schools.  In 1975, only 1 percent of U.S. public schools had an officer stationed inside them.  By the 2007-2008 school year, 40 percent did.”

The article contrasts interrogation techniques used by police to in-school school discipline and explores why strategies police use to interrogate adults are developmentally inappropriate for juveniles, who frequently waive their Miranda rights  “either because they do not understand the (Miranda) warning, do not grasp the gravity of their situation, want to tell their side of the story, or are terrified…”

A recent, and widely endorsed Education Declaration to Rebuild America names seven principles to rectify injustices in today’s school reform.  Here is principle six:

“Discipline policies should keep students in schools.  Students need to be in school in order to learn.  We must cease ineffective and discriminatory disciple practices that push children down the school-to-prison pipeline.  Schools must use fair discipline policies that keep classrooms safe and all students learning.”

According to the American Prospect, “Advancement Project estimates that over 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement are black or Hispanic.”  This statistic reflects our society’s racial bias and also that too many children of color find themselves in public schools segregated by race and also by poverty.

Fair, developmentally appropriate, and restorative discipline policies are difficult to implement in school districts that are vastly under-funded.  It is of urgent importance that we develop the public will to fund  schools in our poorest communities sufficiently to ensure small classes and reasonable loads for counselors and psychologists.  Every child and adolescent should be well-known and supported by at least one adult at school.

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