Today, President Obama announced his proposals in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. They contain many positive elements for addressing the root causes of violence in communities and also acknowledged the importance of positive interventions for ensuring school safety long advocated by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Unfortunately, the proposals also allow schools to use federal funding to increase the presence of police.
The use of security at schools has already been on the rise, and has brought many negative consequences without a proven record of increasing safety. Security guards and police in schools are being misused to ticket or even arrest children for misbehavior that is not in the least bit dangerous. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice sued officials in Meridian, Mississippi to stop their practice of arresting students for non-criminal behavior, such as violating a school dress code and talking back to teachers.
“There are myriad proposals on this list that promise to be effective in preventing or reducing gun violence, including positive interventions to improve school climate and safety. We hope that schools will use these options – such as hiring psychologists, counselors and social workers – and steer clear of increasing law enforcement in schools. With such little benefit, the negative consequences are simply too great,” said Leslie Proll, Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
According to the Department of Education, 42% of students referred to law enforcement and 35% of students arrested in school are African American.
“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 the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “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.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) shared its views with Vice President Biden in a letter earlier this month as he was developing his recommendations. The letter stated, “Until efforts to curb the misuse of school policing become the norm, their presence is potentially harmful. We believe that additional funds aimed at improving school safety as a result of your initiative should be used to hire counselors, social workers, and mental health providers for schools.” The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund also joined the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Advancement Project and the Alliance for Educational Justice in releasing an issue brief that details the harms of increased police presence in schools.
For more than seventy years, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has dismantled barriers to access and opportunity and advocated for high quality, inclusive education for African Americans and other students of color. LDF coordinated the legal challenge to public school segregation, including the historic case Brown v. Board of Education. LDF’s “Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline” initiative is a logical continuation of this work, addressing contemporary obstacles to access and inclusion that undermine educational opportunity. Capitalizing upon institutional expertise in both education and criminal justice, LDF staff members engage in strategic legal advocacy on school discipline issues, designed to dismantle the pipeline to prison. And its staff provides leadership in several significant national efforts to reform school discipline, including the Dignity in Schools Campaign and the School-to-Prison Pipeline Legal Strategies Collaborative. LDF has been a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957. Therefore, if the organization’s name needs to be shortened, please refer to it as “LDF” rather than “NAACP.”