DSC Holds Congressional Briefings on Examining the Role of Police in Schools

24 Sep in
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The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) held congressional briefings in Washington, DC, co-hosted with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., to educate federal policy-makers and national stakeholder groups about our new policy platform, Counselors Not Cops: Ending the Regular Presence of Law Enforcement in Schools.

At a Senate briefing co-sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy (CT), youth leader Eleanora Mendoza of the Youth Organizing Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina spoke about her personal experience being pushed out of school as a result of unjust and discriminatory discipline and school policing practices. She describes how she was targeted because of her race, ethnicity and her families’ immigration status. You can watch her testimony about her experiences, including the trauma she and her peers have suffered at the hands of police in schools and in the community.

DSC has highlighted key statistics on the impact of school police on our interactive website featuring our Counselors Not Cops recommendations. At the briefing, survey and interview data shared by Professor Carla Shedd of Columbia University demonstrates that many students feel imprisoned by school security protocols, describing hall sweeps in which anyone caught outside a classroom when the bell rings is automatically sent to the police office, having daily pat downs or physical searches just to go into their schools, routinely seeing students handcuffed after a fight and so much more.

Morgan Craven of Texas Appleseed spoke about the limited effect of recent laws passed in Texas meant to limit the role of police in schools. For example, a law passed to eliminate the ticketing of students for minor offenses, such as “disruption of class.” In the McKinney school district, while overall ticketing did go down as a result, the decrease was felt almost entirely by white students. By contrast, charging of Black students for “disorderly conduct”, an offense not eliminated by the law, increased. Black students accounted for 61% of charges and 39% of arrests for disorderly conduct in McKinney, even though they make up only 13% of students.

DSC member Harold Jordan of the ACLU of Pennsylvania called on policy-makers to raise the bar and end the practice of embedding police in our schools. He shared his work in districts throughout Pennsylvania, from interacting with administrators that want to decrease the role of police in their schools, to visiting schools that feel like armed camps where students are routinely turned into the police for every little thing. You can read the ACLU of Pennsylvania report, Beyond Zero-Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools.

Tanya Clay House, Deputy Assistant Secretary for P-12 Education at the U.S. Department of Education, also spoke about recently released federal resources on police in schools.

The Senate briefing concluded with Lynn Morton of COFI/POWER-PAC speaking about the creation of peace centers in eight Chicago schools, where parents build relationships with students and facilitate restorative circles to resolve conflicts. You can download POWER-PAC’s Parent-to-Parent Guide to Restorative Justice and read more about positive approaches to discipline and alternatives to police in schools in DSC’s Resource Guide on Counselors Not Cops.

At a House briefing later the same day, Representative G. K. Butterfield (NC), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke about the disproportionate punishment of African American students in schools. “Too often school discipline can snowball from punishment for minor student behavior to consequences that can continue years beyond school. Disproportionately punishing African Americans in ways that they do not deserve can set those students up for absolute failure. Instead we must do all that we can to help set young people up for success.”

Jessica Black, a parent of two children with the Black Organizing Project in Oakland, California, is working to eliminate the role of police in schools. Her son suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after he was handcuffed and removed from school by armed police officers based on a rumor that he had a gun, which he did not have. At the briefing she called on federal policy-makers to stop funding the programs that put police in schools, and to end the Department of Defense 1033 Program that lends surplus military weapons to local police departments, including those that work in schools.

On the same panel, Makkah Abdur Salaam, a 17 year-old student from St. Paul Public Schools and a member of the Minnesota Solutions Not Suspensions Coalition, spoke about the negative altercations between students and the school resource officer (SRO) at her school, including students experiencing verbal abuse, being tazed and being arrested for minor incidents. Students led a march to the Mayor’s office and met with the school board demanding changes to the district’s policies. As a result of their student-led campaign, they began school this year without an SRO in their building, instead relying on ambassadors to interact with students in the school.

Edilberto Flores of the Youth Justice Coalition closed the panel, sharing about Free LA High School in Los Angeles, California where the school has peacebuilders instead of school police. Peacebuilders are trusted community leaders who have established the necessary relationships with students to act as a mediator and peacebuilder within the school and the broader community. The create a safety perimeter in and around schools, reach out to students to build relationships and run violence prevention, conflict mediation and restorative/transformative justice circles in schools.

You can watch the testimony of several speakers form the House Briefing here.

The DSC Counselors Not Cops recommendations call for schools, districts, states and federal policy-makers to:

1.    End the Regular Presence of Law Enforcement in Schools - We are calling for removal of any law enforcement personnel assigned to be present on a regular basis in schools, including sworn officers (and unsworn if they are armed security), municipal police officers, school police officers, school resource officers (SROs), sheriff’s deputies, parole and probation officers, tribal officers, truancy officers, ICE officers or other immigration officials and armed security guards.

2.    Create Safe Schools through Positive Safety and Discipline Measures - Instead, school staff trained to ensure safe and positive school climates, such as community intervention workers, peacebuilders, behavior interventionists, transformative or restorative justice coordinators, school aides, counselors and other support staff, can and do prevent and address safety concerns and conflicts.

3.    Restrict the Role of Law Enforcement that are Called in to Schools - On those rare occasions when it is appropriate for law enforcement to enter a school building, there should be agreements with police departments that limit the cases when law enforcement can be called in to a school, with particular safeguards in place to ensure students’ rights are protected.

Read more about Counselors Not Cops:

Over 100 Education Groups Want to Kick Cops Out of Schools, Huffington Post

Get Police Out of Schools, Coalition of Student, Parent Groups Say, Education Week

Coalition calls for end of police presence in schools, Center for Public Integrity

Counselors, Not Cops, Teaching Tolerance

National Campaign Calls for Schools to Remove All Law Enforcement Officers, Youth Today