Do Police Officers Belong In America’s High Schools?
“The US schools with their own police” reads the title in a Guardian story from January 9. As it turns out, the article goes on to focus not on the police presence in US schools, but in the state of Texas, with a passing reference to California and Florida.
So the title is a bit misleading, but what does the story have to say about Texas, a state where it is common knowledge that every day hundreds of students have to make a court appearance because of school-related offences such as swearing, disrupting class, misbehaving on the school bus and smoking cigarettes?
300,000 “Class C misdemeanor” Tickets Issued In 2010 In Texas
As The Guardian explains:
In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 “Class C misdemeanour” tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.
“It’s very much tied in with some of the hyperbole around the rise in juvenile crime rate that took place back in the early 90s,” said Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed, an Austin legal rights group, and principal author of a 200-page study of the consequences of policing in Texas schools. “They ushered in tough, punitive policies. It was all part of the tough-on-crime movement.”
As a result, the number of school districts in the state with police departments has risen more than 20-fold over the past two decades.
Reaction To Columbine Massacre
After the 1999 Columbine high school massacre, parents demanded protection for their children, and that’s when zero tolerance policies came into their own. Unfortunately, that sometimes meant following the letter of the law strictly without stopping to consider individual circumstances.
There was this story, about a seventh grader arrested for writing on her desk, and this one, about 9-year-old twins suspended for their “gang’ haircuts. Obviously, these are ludicrous over-enforcements of a policy that was created with the best of intentions.
But there is another side to this discussion.
School resource officers (SROs), as these police personnel are known, don’t answer to the administration of the school; they answer to the police department. Often times when a troubled student is reported by a teacher to the principal, the administration will not include the SRO unless laws were broken such as stealing or vandalism.
Police Presence Normal And Welcome In American High Schools
As someone who has taught in several American high schools over the past twenty years, I can say that a police presence is normal, and taken for granted, at least in most large high schools across the country. My personal experience runs to California, New York, Washington DC, and Maryland.
Not only that, but a police presence is generally welcome. These resource officers make friends with the students, and connect to them in different ways than teachers do. Obviously, there are some exceptions, but overall we teachers and the students feel good about having a school resource officer or two around.
“They Don’t Want To Learn, They Just Want To Disrupt”
It does appear that some SROs in some Texas schools are pushing the limits of their responsibilities, but check out what this Austin teacher, quoted in The Guardian, has to say:
“There’s this illusion that it’s just a few kids acting up; kids being kids. This is not the 50s. Too many parents today don’t control their children. Their fathers aren’t around. They’re in gangs. They come in to the classroom and they have no respect, no self-discipline. They’re doing badly, they don’t want to learn, they just want to disrupt. They can be very threatening,” he says. “The police get called because that way the teacher can go on with teaching instead of wasting half the class dealing with one child, and it sends a message to the other kids.”
This is a very complicated issue.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: Arkdog