After a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February, lawmakers announced plans to increase police presence and arm teachers in schools around the country. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott signed a “school safety bill” that earmarked $400 million to hire more school police officers and institute additional surveillance tools; roughly a quarter of that money was directed toward mental health services.
Thousands of students of color subsequently condemned similar proposals that sprung around the country, arguing that they would only reinforce the criminalization of Black and Latinx youth.
A new report, “We Came To Learn: A Call to Action for Police-Free Schools,” released today (September 13) by Advancement Project and Alliance for Educational Justice, amplifies the voices of these young people demanding police-free schools.
Although the number of law enforcement officers in schools has grown in the wake of shootings like those in Parkland and Columbine, their presence can be traced all the way back to the 1950s and the Civil Rights Movement, the report outlines. School policing coincided with student movements for an end to racial discrimination, as government officials attempted to suppress and delegitimize student movements. It continues as students face under-resourced schools, harsh disciplinary measures and zero-tolerance policies that funnel them into the school to prison pipeline.
Today, students face police officers in school more than ever before. Per the report, there are some 1.6 million students in the United States who attend a school that employs law enforcement officers, but not a single school counselor. Children of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students are especially vulnerable to over-policing. Black and Latinx students are arrested at rates that are disproportionately greater than their White counterparts. And while Black girls make up just about 17 percent of the overall school population, they make up 43 percent of the kids who are referred to or arrested by police.
“For communities of color that face police brutality, misconduct, killings and everyday harassment at the hands of police, the idea of having those same officers in the hallways of our schools, around our young people and children, should not make sense,” Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project told Colorlines. “Instead what should be happening is that we move to police-free schools. The resources we are using, which are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, should be put to better use.”
The report names several of the youth of color-led movements that have implemented systems and pushed policies to protect students from over-policing in schools. But it says that many districts remain plagued by a lack of accountability and unclear data on school police and the normalization of school law enforcement.
“Oftentimes communities have no idea how much the school system is spending on policing,” Jonathan Sith, Alliance for Educational Justice’s national director, told Colorlines. “People are not clear around the powers of school police officers in these schools.”
Per the report, these barriers exacerbate the long-term collateral consequences that school policing inflicts on young people, such as loss of instruction time, legal expenses, family separation, emotional trauma, challenges to immigration status and loss of housing and employment.
In response, the report offers a “roadmap to change,” which includes an online resource that documents police violence in schools. It also includes a toolkit for students, parents and educators to work toward adopting restorative justice measures and dismantle school policing.
“We’re putting Black and Brown students in harm’s way,” Tyler Whittenberg, staff attorney at Advancement Project and an author of the report, said. “This is a major part of not only mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline, but also the oppression of Black folks throughout history. And now we’re calling the specific piece of that to end, and hopefully we can do it one school district at a time.”
Read the full report and access a toolkit for students, parents and educators here.