Two of the largest school districts in the country are in the process of changing the way they use police officers in their schools. The changes come as school leaders and policymakers are wrestling with the question how much and how often law enforcement should be used at schools, Education Week reports.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is revising the agreement between the city’s school district and its police department. Rather than sending in officers to respond to disturbances, the district will use social and mental health resources with the intention of de-escalating issues before they get out of hand.
In addition, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has questioned whether having police resource officers in schools is appropriate. Her comments suggest that she may end this practice and that she believes that police officers are not properly trained to deal with student conflicts.
Despite the continuing threat of shootings, some school districts are beginning to move away from strategies that make the environment seem harder and less welcoming. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District will phase out the use of handheld metal detectors for random searches among students by July 2020. There will still be searches for suspected criminal activities, however. This is a win for United Teachers Los Angeles, who included the demand in their January strike against the district and also worked with the district to implement a pilot program to reduce random searches.
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report showing that approximately 14 million students attend schools where police officers are present, but there are no counselors, nurses or other social-emotional support workers. In schools that do provide those professionals, about 90% don’t meet minimum staff-to-student ratios. Arrest rates were higher in schools that were staffed by police officers and black and disabled students were arrested at a higher rate than white students.
Some argue that spending funds on school police instead of counselors, social workers and other pupil personnel positions contributes to the "school-to-prison pipeline," especially for students of color. Black students are more likely to attend schools that have a police presence and black male students are three times more likely to be arrested at school than white male students. Female black students are arrested at a rate of 1.5 times that of white male students. If schools are going to employ law enforcement officers, experts stress that they should be trained to support students' social-emotional needs and to not be involved in school discipline issues.