Federal Guidelines on Police in Schools Welcome But Don't Go Far Enough

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Statement on the Departments of
Education and Justice 
Guidelines on Police in Schools

This week, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice (Ed Department and DOJ) released new guidelines to state and local governments that have or plan to create school-based law enforcement officer policies and practices. The Safe, School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics propose steps school districts and local law enforcement agencies should take to ensure that law enforcement officers, also known as school resource officers, are responsibly assigned to schools. These steps include the creation of formal agreements between school administrators and law enforcement agencies clearly defining and limiting their roles in a school setting, effective recruitment and training of officers (including training on implicit bias and use of force), and evaluation of school resource officer programs.

“We welcome the Ed Department and DOJ guidelines, but urge both departments to go further,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). “While the new guidelines state that any agreement between school districts and law enforcement agencies must comply with civil rights laws, they do not offer guidance to school resource officers on their federal legal obligation to carry out their duties in a nondiscriminatory and constitutional manner. This is critical information in the wake of stark racial disparities in school resource officers’ use of excessive force against students of color.”

In the past several years, news reports have revealed incidents of police excessive use of force against students of color in K-12 public schools across the country, including Baltimore, Maryland, San Antonio, Texas and Richland County, S.C. Additionally, national data released by the Ed Department’s Office for Civil Rights revealed that in 2013-2014, African-American students were 2.3 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or subjected to a school-related arrest than white students.

“We know that when police have a regular presence in schools, not only are students of color arrested at disproportionate rates, these arrests are often for minor infractions, such as disorderly conduct,” said Monique Dixon, Deputy Director of Policy and Senior Counsel at LDF. “With highly-publicized incidents of police violence against communities of color in and out of the classroom, and increasing public distrust of law enforcement, school districts should investigate whether school resource officer programs do more harm than good, and consider eliminating them. Education Secretary John King was right to state in his Dear Colleague letter about the new guidelines that states and local governments can empower their schools, educators, and staff with the skills to avoid relying on school resource officers in the first instance,” Dixon added.

For years, LDF has urged the federal government to require law enforcement agencies to engage in certain data collection and training as a condition of receiving federal funds. We applaud the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office’s announcement that it will require law enforcement agencies that receive COPS funding to hire school police to comply with the SECURE Rubrics.

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.

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