The End of Police in Schools
By Lauren Camera, Senior Education Writer – US News and World Report
HOUSTON, TEXAS : School alumni and residents participate in a vigil honoring George Floyd on the football field of Jack Yates High School on June 8, 2020 in Houston, Texas. George Floyd, who played football for Yates High School, died on May 25th when he was in Minneapolis police custody, sparking nationwide protests. A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder, with the three other officers involved facing other charges.
School alumni and residents participate in a vigil honoring George Floyd on the football field of Jack Yates High School on June 8, 2020 in Houston. Floyd graduated from Jack Yates High School before moving to Minneapolis.
Denver Public Schools became the third school district in two weeks to sever a million-dollar contract with its city’s police department to remove officers from schools – a move that at least a dozen other school districts are considering following the death of George Floyd in police custody and the subsequent chorus of ongoing country-wide protests over police violence against black people.
“This topic is not new or knee jerk,” said Jennifer Bacon, vice president of Denver’s Board of Education. “People have been calling for it to end for a long time.”
“It took eight minutes and 46 seconds to say we are going to do these things,” she said referencing the amount of time the police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck according to videos.
In Denver, as in most other school districts that partner with police departments to provide security, black and Hispanic students face disproportionately high rates of discipline and referrals to the juvenile justice system.
During the 2018-19 school year, for example, 29% of referrals to law enforcement were for black students, despite black students accounting for only 13% of the district’s student population, according to the Advancement Project. And from 2014 through 2019, there were 4,540 police tickets and arrests of students within Denver schools – 87% of them students of color.
Denver is just the latest in a series of districts to make this decision.
Minneapolis Public Schools ended its decades-long partnership with the city’s police department last week – a unanimous vote from the school board following the death of Floyd.
Two days later, Portland Public Schools followed suit, with Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero announcing that the district will discontinue the regular presence of police in its schools and increase spending on school counselors and social workers.
Now, a week later, school districts across the country are considering eliminating contracts with local police departments and ending the use of school resource officers – moves that signal mounting agreement among school officials that the unequal treatment of black people by police officers is mirrored at the K-12 level, where black children are disciplined more often and more severely than white children, and that staffing schools with police officers exacerbates the trend of children being pushed out of schools and into the juvenile or criminal justice system.
As it stands, as many as 20,000 school resource officers are in schools today, according to the National School Resource Officers Association, though the exact number is unclear since they are not required to register with any national database and police departments aren’t required to report how many of their officers serve in that capacity. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 42% of public schools reported employing at least one school resource officer during the 2015-16 school year.
Civil rights and students advocacy groups argue that in nearly two decades since the 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, efforts to increase school safety have led to districts placing more police in schools, resulting in a punitive system of school discipline that disproportionately impacts black students.
Vanessa Roberts, executive director of Project VOYCE, a community advocacy organization in Denver, says “police cannot be trusted to keep us safe.”
“The same police officers killing black and brown people on the street are the same officers who roam school hallways,” she says.
The increased funding to support school resource officers, both at the state and federal level, also come at a time when school districts can’t afford a dedicated nurse or mental health counselor for each school.
According to a review of federal data by the ACLU, 1.7 million students are enrolled in schools that employ police officers but lack school counselors; 3 million are enrolled in schools that employ police officers but but lack nurses; 6 million are enrolled in schools that employ police officers but lack a psychologist; and a whopping 10 million are enrolled in schools that employ police officers but lack social workers.
In Houston, where Floyd graduated from Jack Yates High School before moving to Minneapolis years later, the school system, Houston Independent School District, runs its own police department with a budget of about $10 million and more than 200 officers on the payroll.