Tucked into President Obama’s gun control proposal is a benign and seemingly uncontroversial call to improve school safety by staffing up schools with more police officers and counselors. It’s one of the big umbrella areas of his plan, announced today. But that initial policy proposal has civil rights advocates worried that instead of making for “more nurturing school climates,” as Obama says he wants to work toward, he’ll be exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline, another issue which Obama has worked proactively to address.
Obama is calling on Congress to fund schools to hire up to 1,000 more counselors, psychologists, social workers, and school resource officers, among other initiatives. While the name “school resource officers” is a rather benign term, they are actually typically sheriff’s deputies dispatched to patrol schools. As experience shows, more law enforcement officers do not necessarily make for safer school environments, and in fact can contribute to dynamics which push students out of school. As law enforcement officers who are called on to serve a disciplinary function in schools, they are a central part of the school-to-prison pipeline machine, an apparatus so-named for the ratcheting up of school discipline in the nation which has funneled youth, a disproportionate number of them black and Latino, out of schools and into the criminal justice system.
“We have several concerns about the administration incentivizing police departments and school districts to put more police officers in schools,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office.