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ACLU report says guidelines needed for police in schools

November 1, 2009

Students’ rights must be respected while ensuring school safety

by Will Matthews

Police arrest an unarmed student in the parking lot of Cleveland’s South High School.
Police arrest an unarmed student in the parking lot of Cleveland’s South High School.
New York – Allowing police officers to patrol school campuses without specific guidelines outlining their roles and responsibilities can create a harmful environment that unnecessarily pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report provides specific policy recommendations for the use of police in schools so that police officers deployed to schools are given the tools necessary for maintaining safe school environments while respecting the rights of students and the overall school climate.

“It is essential that the work of police on school campuses be guided by formal standards and policies,” said Catherine Y. Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program and co-author of the study. “As the number of police officers on school campuses across the country continues to grow, there is a real risk that without concrete guidelines, student behavior will be unnecessarily criminalized and school environments will become increasingly toxic.”

The study – or white paper – identifies six key policy guidelines that should govern the use of police in schools, including distinguishing between disciplinary misconduct to be handled by school officials and criminal offenses to be handled by law enforcement, and the promotion of non-punitive approaches to student behavior.

According to the ACLU’s white paper, the number of children arrested or referred to court for minor disciplinary infractions is on the rise. In South Carolina, for example, the single most common offense resulting in a juvenile court referral during the 2007-08 school year was “disturbing schools.”

During the same year in Florida, 15 percent of all delinquency referrals stemmed from school-related conduct, with 40 percent involving “disorderly conduct” or “misdemeanor assault and battery.”

Last year in Birmingham, Alabama, 19 percent of juvenile arrests resulting in court referral were for school misconduct and, among those, 33 percent were for fights, 29 percent were for disorderly conduct and 21 percent were for trespassing or harassment.

Studies have shown that improper school-based arrests dramatically increase the likelihood of students dropping out of school and reduce students’ chances of succeeding academically.

Children of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately represented among those students arrested or referred to court, exacerbating the disturbing national trend known as the “school-to-prison-pipeline,” wherein children are over-aggressively pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

“There are serious problems with relying too heavily on police to maintain order and to provide discipline without ensuring that police understand exactly how they fit within the overarching educational framework of schools,” said I. India Geronimo, Marvin M. Karpatkin Fellow with the ACLU Racial Justice Program and co-author of the report.

“When arresting kids for misbehaving becomes the primary mode of discipline, some of our most vulnerable populations end up being unnecessarily criminalized at very young ages before alternatives that could lead to academic success are exhausted.”

The white paper also advocates that any governing policy ensure that police on school campuses be given minimum training requirements, that the role of police within the context of the educational mission of the school is explicitly defined, that police operate in a manner that is transparent and accountable and that police respect the rights of children in school.

Although there are no available figures documenting the current number of police officers patrolling school campuses in the U.S., it is clear that schools across the country have begun to deploy police on school grounds in growing numbers. In 2004, for example, studies show that 60 percent of high school teachers reported armed police officers stationed at their schools, and in 2005 nearly 70 percent of public school students between the ages of 12 and 18 said police officers or security guards patrol their hallways.

Frequently referred to as “School Resource Officers” or SROs, the police on school campuses are often sworn police officers employed by local police departments and assigned to patrol public school hallways full time.

A copy of the ACLU’s white paper is available online at www.aclu.org/racialjustice/edu/40816pub20090824.html. Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at www.aclu.org/racialjustice. Additional information about the school-to-prison-pipeline is available online at www.aclu.org/stpp.

Contact the American Civil Liberties Union at 125 Broad St., 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004-2400, or www.aclu.org.

3 thoughts on “ACLU report says guidelines needed for police in schools

  1. Natalie

    There’s also the issue that throwing kids in the juvenile justice system and locking them up only leads to creating a culture of deviance. A recent scientific study found that delinquent behavior is contagious in these type of settings i.e. jail, juvenile detention, etc. Also, once in the system as a juvenile, the chances of ending up in the adult justice system are much more great. According to the study, the emphasis should be on prevention programs and minimizing the numbers of delinquents in a program together. For more on the study, see http://askthejudge.info/is-delinquent-behavior-contagious/2643/#more-2643

    Reply
  2. physal

    I’m sure that the ACLU is not thrilled with the police being on campus at all. They will have a much harder time suing school districts for teachers, administrators, and support staff who happen to try and stop fights, aggressive behaviors, and major class threats. If the police are there to observe and take care of any problems it will be harder to get districts to settle$

    Also since many SRO’s happen to fit the major demographics of the students in the schools they represent it is harder to get other lawsuits going…

    The bottom line is that parents aren’t disiplining, the schools really can’t (thanks ACLU), and the justice system is where we are stuck looking to. The system is was never meant to handle the extreme amount of crime that is happening in this country. There is no system that can handle the amount of crime Americans and others are willing to commit. It takes an average of 6 convictions before a criminal goes to prison. Please note that I wrote “average” and that is convictions, not arrests.

    The only system that can even begin to prevent the vast amount of problems with children is the family, that is where we need to look.

    Reply
  3. physal

    Texas Report: Physical Restraint Used More Than 18,000 Times Last School Year.

    The Texas Tribune (11/6, Ramshaw) reports that Texas educators "forcibly pinned down students with disabilities more than 18,000 times in the last school year, sometimes injuring them in the process." A Texas Tribune "review of state data shows public school educators used so-called 'physical restraints' – a tool to control or discipline students with disabilities – roughly 100 times a day during the 2007-08 school year." According to the Tribune, "Educators say restraints are sometimes the only way to prevent disasters. … But disability rights advocates say the numbers point to a crisis in Texas special education," as teachers "are resorting to physical restraints because they aren't properly trained to manage their students' disabilities – posing a threat to vulnerable children and to themselves."

    Reply

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