Sunday, June 7, 2020

Madison Teachers Inc. Announces Support For Goal To Remove Police From Hallways

Research doesn't demonstrate any tangible benefits for having police in schools; conversely, evidence shows such disciplinary action toward students is structurally racist.

Amid the uprisings across several cities in the United States in reaction to the police killing of George Floyd late in May, some communities are announcing actions intended to reimagine what policing should look like.

Madison is no different. Protesters for the past week or so have called for drastic changes in order to ensure that policing is less structurally racist.

Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) is joining that call, announcing over the weekend that it wants to see the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) move away from having police officers, called school resource officers (SROs), in their hallways.

The teacher union organization emphasized that a police presence can sometimes be detrimental to the mental health of some students of color. It also said that it didn't want to see officers removed until other resources were made available for students in need.
We call for the removal of all School Resource Officers from the four comprehensive high schools with the caveat that this only occurs when all four high schools are properly staffed with counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and mental health specialists according to the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommended levels.
There is understandably going to be a knee-jerk reaction to this plan. How can schools adequately make sure students are safe and prevent bad behavior if cops are out of the building, one might ask.

But the evidence for such fears is lacking.

There are about 14,000 to 20,000 SROs across the country, in about 30 percent of the nation's schools. There's no evidence, however, that their presence actually makes them safer, according to experts like Marc Schindler, who heads the Justice Policy Institute.

"In fact, the data really shows otherwise — that this is largely a failed approach in devoting a significant amount of resources but not getting the outcome in school safety that we are all looking for," Schindler told NPR in 2018.

That same NPR article pointed out that some students get disciplined in major ways for what appear to be minor violations. A former Chicago public school student by the name of Antonio Magic detailed how he was arrested by an SRO, for instance, after he led a protest among his peers. Magic agreed to an 18-month probation deal, after learning from the judge he encountered that his action could result in five years of jail time.

Evidence is also lacking to show SROs can prevent violence from entering the schools, including school shootings, from happening. While some anecdotal evidence here and there demonstrates that an SRO has stopped such shootings, it's important to remember that other SROs haven't prevent shootings elsewhere — including in Columbine or at Parkside.

"For someone to suggest that SROs prevent school shootings is absolutely unfounded in in terms of science. There’s no support for that statement at all," criminal justice researcher at Bowling Green State University Tom Mowen has said.

There's also the racial component to keep in mind here. Black students and other students of color are more likely to be disciplined in schools than are their white counterparts. One study found that Black boys in schools receive such disciplinary action at a rate that's three times higher than white boys, for instance.

Another study found that Black middle- and high-school boys were more likely to be viewed as "troublemakers" than white boys were, even accounting for students in both groups acting out in similar ways.

Tyrone C. Howard, professor of education in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at UCLA, thinks there's a better way to treat students — one that doesn't involve SROs, but instead pushes for resources to be dedicated toward hiring professionals more equipped with handling things.
"Instead of punishing students, schools might be better served allocating limited resources to provide additional supports for mental-health services and programs instead of SROs. Much of what is seen from students who engage in conflict is a need for intervention for depression, anxiety, bipolar issues, or untreated trauma. More schools are adopting restorative-justice practices, which in some cases are showing positive outcomes. More resources should be devoted to such programs that seek to help and heal students as opposed to criminalizing them."
This isn't to say that police might not be needed at schools, but when they are, what should schools do? If a student behaves in a way that requires a police presence, schools should do what businesses or households do: call them. It's really that simple.

For all other problems, it's probably best for schools to handle things on their own, instead of possibly seeing an SRO go too far with how they respond to a kid that just needs someone to listen to them.

Having a police officer in a school building sounds like a nice thing to a lot of people. For students of color, however, it may be viewed differently, and those concerns must be addressed. More resources allocated to helping every student, without prejudice, should be the goal of school districts across the nation — and it appears that's what MTI has in mind with this announcement.

Featured image credit: Madison Teachers Inc/Wikimedia 

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