Source: LDF

Advocates working to dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline are sending a strong message to federal policymakers about how to keep school safe without enhancing police presence

This week the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational fund (LDF) and the Dignity in Schools Campaign are leading a national coalition of students, parents, teachers, researchers and legal advocates & activists working to dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline.  The groups have assembled in Washington, DC to tell Congress, the Obama Administration and other policymakers that adding more police officers to schools is not the answer for keeping schools safe in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 

This is the fourth in a series of “Days at the Capitol” for this coalition, which has gained significant momentum in efforts to replace punitive school discipline policies with evidence-based solutions that eliminate racial disparities and help all students realize their full potential.  LDF coordinates the coalition’s legislative and policy efforts. 

The coalition will meet with staff from key congressional committees, including the House and Senate Judiciary and Education committees, to deliver their message in person.  Youth who have been directly affected by exclusionary school discipline policies such as suspensions, expulsions, citations and arrests for minor misbehavior will share their stories with Members of Congress and officials from the  U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice.  A delegation of young people will also meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to present positive alternatives to police presence that have worked in their schools.  And a national coalition of students of color and allies from around the country, will hold a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol building to call on Congress to reject school safety policies that promote an increase in police, school resource officers (SRO’s) and armed guards in our nations’ public schools.  The coalition will urge Congress and the Obama administration to instead focus on proven positive measures like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), social and emotional learning, Restorative Justice, and the hiring and training of counselors, social workers, and community intervention workers.

This week’s activities follow the January release of an issue brief outlining the unintended consequences that often result from stationing police officers and armed guards in schools.  Co-authored by LDF along with the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Advancement Project and the Alliance for Educational Justice, the issue brief also sets forth a number of recommendations for alternatives to police presence, all of which are backed by a wealth of research.

And in February LDF joined other advocates in filing a federal civil rights complaint challenging a Texas school district’s practice of using law enforcement officers to issue criminal misdemeanor tickets to students for minor behavioral infractions.  The complaint outlines discriminatory patterns:  Nearly half of all misdemeanor tickets issued by the school-based “resource officers” are for non-criminal conduct such as “disruption of class” and using cuss words.  And African-American students are four times more likely than all other students to receive a ticket for these types of categories.

“Experts agree that issuing tickets to children does not make schools safer,” said Rachel Kleinman, LDF Assistant Counsel.  “Ticketing also exacerbates inequalities because African-American students are subject to overzealous discipline much more than their peers.  Instead of ‘policing’ students, school districts should adopt proven alternatives to keep misbehavior in check without treating young people like criminals.”

“Bringing police into schools often negatively impacts the very children we are trying to protect,” said Damon Hewitt, Director of the Education Practice Group at LDF. “Police in schools often cross the line between safety and discipline, using overzealous methods to address normal adolescent behavior. African-American students are significantly more likely than their peers to be arrested at school, just for acting like teenagers.  Schools seeking federal funds to improve safety must be sensitive to these concerns. They should decline to use federal funds to enhance law enforcement presence and instead focus on evidence-based practices that are proven to improve school safety and climate without criminalizing students.”