Resource officers equipped with SEL skills can help reduce bullying, suspensions
- Dr. Michael Gaskell, principal mentor through the NJEA Leaders to Leaders program, shares with eSchool News his insights regarding how to best use school resource officers (SROs) or school security officers (SSOs) as part of a disciplinary method to reduce bullying and divert offenders from suspension and direct involvement with law enforcement agencies.
- Gaskell calls the method the “Schoolhouse Adjustment,” adapted from the Stationhouse Adjustment method employed by some law enforcement agencies, and it utilizes a constructive intervention designed to help build more positive relationships between students and SROs. A student who has committed an act of misconduct or bullying is referred to school administration, which then refers the student for a meeting with the school security officer during a non-core instructional time period to focus on the legal and moral implications of the student’s actions, after which the student is tracked for recurring incidences.
- Since using this method at a school where he served as principal, Gaskell said the suspension rate reduced from 6.4% of students to 1.6%, and incidences of bullying have decreased by one-third.
The use of school resource officers in schools has received some negative press in the past decade, with some studies suggesting that they are a waste of resources and others alleging they are harmful and discriminatory. However, school resource officers play a large role in many schools today, especially in the wake of recent surges of school violence. In fact, data released in 2016 revealed that more than 1.5 million students nationwide attended a school with a resource officer but no school counselor.
What is emerging is a new approach to the use of school resource officers and how their role is defined. In an article in Juvenile Justice, John Rosiak of Prevention Partnerships suggests that SROs' roles may be defined differently by community, based on needs and wants, but their activities can often combine the roles of educator and informal counselor and mentor alongside that of a law enforcement officer.
"The way each of these roles is carried out has the potential to keep youth out of involvement with the juvenile justice system," Rosiak wrote.
School leaders and community organizations must work together to determine what direction that school discipline should take. If school resources officers are to serve as student mentors and advisers rather than just school guardians, they need to be carefully chosen and specially trained in social-emotional learning practices and counseling techniques, as well as elements of the law. Schools leaders must also craft clear memorandums of understanding to help define the role and expectations of such officers if the goal is to divert students from a path to prison.
“If law enforcement working in schools is going to divert students from involvement with the justice system, then the broader community needs to help by providing the alternatives to which students can be referred to hold them accountable and provide needed supports,” Rosiak wrote.