YES TO COUNSELORS, NO TO COPS

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On January 16th 2013, President Obama announced a comprehensive plan to address gun violence. There were several proposals including some focused on school safety. Part of the plan enables U.S. public schools to hire up to 1,000 more school police or school counselors.

Specifically:

“The Administration is calling on Congress to help schools hire up to 1,000 more school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors, as well as make other investments in school safety. We also need to make sure every school has a comprehensive emergency management plan so they are prepared to respond to situations like mass shootings. In addition, the Administration is proposing to help 8,000 schools put in place proven strategies to prevent violence and improve school climate by reducing bullying, drug abuse, violence, and other problem behaviors.”

In Chicago, parents, educators, students, advocates, and community members gathered on January 24th to discuss our concerns about the President’s proposal to offer funds to school districts to hire more police or counselors. This meeting was organized and convened by Project NIA and co-sponsored by the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.

Meeting participants worried that many districts would decide to hire police officers rather than to invest in more counselors to help address the root causes of student disciplinary issues. As the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) points out:

“Schools around the country have invested heavily in security measures such as metal detectors, armed police officers and school resource officers (SROs), often with devastating results for students – especially students of color, LGTBQ students, and students with disabilities. As research by the American Psychological Association and others has shown, these measures, which are usually implemented along with “Zero Tolerance” discipline policies that employ suspensions and expulsions, have neither increased graduation rates nor made students feel safer. In fact, they have increased the time students spend out of school and increased arrests and referrals to the justice system – especially for nonviolent student behavior like “disrespect” – and further increased racial disparity in school exclusion and educational outcomes.”

With these realities in mind, a loose coalition of individuals and organizations in Chicago formed to pressure our Senators (in particular) to oppose any new funding for police officers in schools and to take an affirmative position in support of more counselors and restorative justice programs. We also wanted to be proactive in asking the Chicago Public Schools to pass a resolution that would state unequivocally that any new funding received from Federal grants to improve school safety based on the President’s gun reform plan will be used to hire COUNSELORS NOT COPS. Our coalition accomplished a great deal in just a few short weeks:

1. Students at Roosevelt University collected over 900 hand signed letters for Senators Durbin and Kirk. They delivered these to the Senators’ offices on April 4th.

2. Students at Roosevelt also gathered over 320 signatures for a petition to Senator Durbin urging him to support more counselors rather than cops in our schools. Roosevelt students received some press coverage for their efforts.

3. Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago collected and mailed over 165 postcards asking Chicago Public Schools Board President David Vitale to support more counselors not cops in schools. These students also helped to draft language for a proposed resolution that we would like to see the CPS Board adopt on this matter.

4. We organized a call-in day to Senators Durbin and Kirk to press our message on April 3rd. They received dozens of calls asking them to oppose more funding for police in schools. We timed this action to coincide with the National Week of Action Against the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

5. We also encouraged individuals to call our Senators again during the week of April 13th as debate began on the gun reform bills in the Senate. We used social media to get the word out about this action.

6. Finally, we produced a short film documenting how one urban school in Chicago manages school safety without relying on law enforcement or harsh school disciplinary policies. We will use that film to promote the campaign and also to provide a concrete example illustrating that it is in fact possible to ensure school safety without relying on cops.

Visit the Blog section for updates about our efforts. For more information, email us at yes2counselors@gmail.com.

The Yes To Counselors, No To More Cops in our Schools Campaign has been coordinated by Project NIA.