In Massachusetts, those who want police out of public schools are one step closer to making it happen. Lawmakers recently struck down a requirement that all school districts in the state have at least one “school resource officer”—a moniker for school cops. Now just two states—Florida and Maryland—have laws requiring police in schools, and advocates are pushing them to follow suit. Massachusetts adopted the school police requirement in 2014 in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut where 26 people were killed at school, including 20 young children. Since then, the number of cops assigned to work in Massachusetts schools has steadily grown, as school shootings nationwide have continued.
Police in Schools
In this moment of transformative possibility, amid activists’ growing calls to defund and abolish the police, young people across the country are leading a movement to remove police officers from schools. They are demanding that city and school district leaders reallocate funding for police into services and resources for students, including counseling, social workers and restorative justice programming. The movement for police-free schools has a long history of Black youth leading this fight as a key strategy to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, a process of funneling predominately Black and Latinx students out of schools and into the juvenile legal system.
On Sunday, more than 100 Minneapolis teachers and families rallied in the parking lot outside the Davis Center, the district headquarters, to protest the hiring – without prior warning – of what they suspect will be “rent-a-cops” with even less accountability than licensed police officers. “When we said we didn’t want any more SROs, any more police officers in our buildings, we did not mean, 'hire a bunch of private security officers and put them in our buildings,'” said MFT president Greta Callahan, a teacher at Bethune Community School in Near North. “Let me ask you a question. If I order a sandwich, and I say, ‘Hold the mayo,’ does that mean put a bunch of Miracle Whip all over it? They’re missing the point.” The teachers’ union asked concerned students and parents to call the district with two demands: stop the PSSS hiring process, and involve the public on how school security will be reconstructed.
Chicago’s school board has voted against ending a program that puts police officers in public schools, following the wishes of the mayor and top Chicago Public Schools leadership while rejecting the demands of students and activists who for years have called for police-free schools. While the narrow 4-3 vote, the most suspenseful by the Board of Education in years, keeps intact a scrutinized $33-million contract between the school system and the Chicago Police Department, another vote is likely in the next two months on whether to renew the contract that’s set to expire at the end of August. Ahead of the highly anticipated vote that for now leaves more than 200 officers in about 70 schools, students and activists held protests across the city, including in front of the board president’s house, to give one final push toward dumping the contract.
After about a two-hour debate the Oakland School Board tonight voted unanimously to eliminate the Oakland Unified School District Police Department from campuses. The “George Floyd Resolution” eliminates the school districts police force of 10 sworn officers and 50 unarmed campus safety officers. The Board also added several amendments to the final proposal. One requires the superintendent to ensure all staff receive training. Citing the disproportionate arrests of Black students by Oakland’s school police, as well as the district’s “obligation to promote the healthy development of each one of its students” and the many alternative ways to handle discipline inside schools, the board directed the superintendent to take steps required to eliminate the department.
Thousands of Chicagoans have rallied in the past couple weeks behind the demand that Chicago Public Schools end its relationship with the police department. But a small group of advocates have been working on this issue for years, and they’ve won significant progress in recent months. We don’t know the impact of those changes yet — though we do know that alternatives to police in schools need much greater support. A new Chicago Police Department policy implemented last August removed so-called school resource officers from involvement in day-to-day disciplinary matters. It requires screening of potential officers, including consideration of their disciplinary records and involvement with youth, and selection in consultation with school principals. It mandates training in youth development, de-escalation, restorative justice, crisis intervention and disability issues.
As policymakers call for more school police in response to safety concerns, a new analysis of federal data shows that many students don't have access to other kinds of staff necessary for safety and support—staff like school nurses, social workers, and psychologists. As a result of safety discussions that focus on shootings, rather than the broader range of safety concerns and student needs, "schools are under-resourced and students are overcriminalized," says the report, released Monday by the ACLU. The analysis also found that disproportionately high arrest rates for students of color and students with disabilities are continuing, while there was a 17 percent growth in school-based referrals to law enforcement from 2013-14 to 2015-16.