A national coalition of groups dedicated to ending the school-to-prison pipeline wants all law enforcement officers out of schools for good.
The Dignity in Schools Campaign released a new policy platform today that says officers should not be a regular presence in schools and emphasizes the need for trained staff such as behavior interventionists and restorative justice coordinators to promote safe and healthy schools.
When law enforcement must respond to an incident at a school, schools and police departments should have agreements that stress the importance of limited intervention and safeguards for students’ rights to education, counsel and due process, according to the new policy.
Dignity in Schools, which includes more than 100 groups from 27 states, long has advocated for limiting the role of law enforcement in schools but said more drastic action is now needed to protect students.
“Over time, we have seen that even with restricted roles and more training, police in schools can still criminalize students and their families. Recent recorded incidents of violence against students by police in schools have made clear the dire consequences of their continued presence in the school environment,” the campaign said in a resource guide that accompanied the policy platform.
The number of officers in schools has grown in recent decades. In 1999, 54 percent of students reported a security guard or police officer was present at school, a figure that grew to 70 percent in 2013, according to federal data.
Supporters of limiting the use of law enforcement in schools say the presence of officers can mean students are harshly punished for typical child and adolescent behavior in ways that can push them out of school and into the justice system, a fate that disproportionately affects students of color and those with disabilities.
Kimberely Jones, from the Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline in Georgia, applauded the platform. She said her son’s involvement with law enforcement at his high school has been difficult to move past, as he deals with probation and trouble pursuing his education further because of his record.
“He’s paying the price for something that happened when he was a child that should have been handled by the school,” she said.
The campaign’s position comes after the federal departments of Education and Justice released resources earlier this month designed to help states and local jurisdictions responsibly incorporate school resource officers (SROs) into schools. The resources call for ensuring educators were responsible for discipline, officers receive specialized training and schools and law enforcement agencies have written agreements about their roles.
“Let me be clear, properly trained educators must be in charge of not only the development of discipline policies but also the administration of such policies,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said when the resources were released. The administration also stressed that the decision to use SROs was a local one.
At the time, Dignity in Schools said it supported the recommendations but urged officials to redirect funding from law enforcement to other positions.
The National Association of School Resource Officers welcomed the administration’s recommendations.
“Like Education Secretary King, we believe that administering formal school discipline belongs solely in the hands of educators, and that educators should be well trained to address behavioral issues through a variety of interventions that do not involve law enforcement officers,” said Executive Director Mo Canady in a statement.