Remember when schools used to call a student’s parent if a child was being unruly instead of arresting them? In October 2015, a student in South Carolina was flipped out of her desk and tossed across her classroom before being arrested. What was she being arrested for? For being on her phone and not listening to administrators when they tried to confiscate the phone. In April 2016, a middle schooler in Texas was slammed to the ground before being arrested for arguing with another student. It seems as though more and more students are being arrested with criminal charges for typical kid behavior.
Some advocates believe that increased police presence on school campuses is related to increased juvenile justice involvement. Trained police officers who are hired by the school to monitor hallways, provide security, and deliver disciplinary action when needed are called School Resource Officers, or SROs. In a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of middle and high school campuses in the United States had SROs during the 2013-2014 school year. In my opinion, it appears as if SROs are being utilized for discipline rather than safety, leading to arrests instead of in-school disciplinary actions. According to a report from The Guardian in 2010, police gave close to 300,000 “Class C Misdemeanor” tickets to children as young as six in Texas. These tickets can result in fines, community service hours, and sometimes even time in prison.
I graduated in 2014 from a high school that had three SROs. It was a frequent occurrence for our SROs to be called to assist with students for talking back to teachers, not putting away their cell phones, or for being loud or rowdy. Students were often removed from class. Police presence made for a stressful learning environment, where harsh discipline was the norm. Before attending this high school, I attended a school that didn’t have an SRO. There, student discipline looked and felt very different. Instead of being confronted by an SRO, students were dealt with by teachers or school administrators directly. This approach made for a more welcoming environment that promoted the success of their students and positive relationship building.
So what do we do? There are several strategies that could be used to combat the impact of police presence in schools. One that I propose would be to change the way officers and teachers are trained to deal with disruptive student behaviors, and to treat typical kid behavior as normal instead of criminal. Another solution could be to incentivize teachers and administrators to deal with student behavior themselves, instead of relying on SROs. It may also be time to change, or even get rid of, zerotolerance policies in our schools, that deliver specific punishments to students regardless of the circumstance. Or maybe, we could remove officers from schools completely. Our children have a right to safe education, and placing police in schools may not be the right way to go.