Every parent should be able to send their child off to school knowing that he or she will spend the day in a safe environment. For many parents across the nation, however, that peace of mind was shattered by the unthinkable tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. Today, the House of Representatives will take up the issue of school safety with a hearing in the House Education and Workforce Committee. The ACLU has submitted a statement suggesting ways to ensure that schools are safe places for students to learn, grow, and thrive.
There is no question that school safety is a significant issue that needs to be effectively addressed. However, the ACLU is concerned that many of the solutions being proposed across the country involve increasing police presence in schools. Sadly, we have been down this road before, and history has proven that this approach is not only ineffective when it comes to preventing violence, but can actually harm kids in ways that lawmakers didn’t contemplate—by pushing them into the school to prison pipeline. When more police or Safety Resource Officers (SROs), are stationed in schools, they assume a disciplinary role that was once reserved for school administrators and teachers. As a result, students face criminal repercussions for minor misbehavior like playground fights or talking out of turn in class. For example, in New York City, which employs a school security force of over 5,000, 77% of incidents that the police were involved in during the 2004-2005 school year were classified as “non-criminal.” By putting these kids in contact with the criminal justice system at even younger ages, schools are sending them down a path that is often difficult to reverse. Moreover, a nationwide survey showed that SROs generally did not receive appropriate training before their placement in schools, making their increased involvement in school discipline even more worrisome.
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