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Get cops out of schools

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Published in St. Louis American, April 19, 2017

Then came the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, which resulted in increased federal funding for hiring police in schools through programs by the Department of Justice like ‘COPS in Schools” or “Safe Schools/Healthy Students.” Predominantly white or affluent schools like Columbine rejected the concept of cops in the school. Jim St. Germain, co-founder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow, echoed the sentiments of communities where those schools are: “Kids from suburban white America – they don’t get arrested for cursing out a teacher, throwing a book,” St. Germain said. “These are the things they go to a counselor for.”

Next came the Zero-Tolerance policies adopted by many school districts as their desperate but ineffective response to school behavior that reflected normal kid stuff or other behaviors that were symptomatic of deeper emotional and psychological issues. Even groups like the American Federation of Teachers bought into this flawed response to school violence although it has since rejected the failed policy. ZT is where suspensions and expulsions — the biggest motivators for school drop-outs – have skyrocketed.

More brushes with police lead to more violations, more violations lead to more interactions with the criminal injustice system. This is where the concept of a “school to prison pipeline” is born.

Research also has shown that students of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender children; and those with special needs are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school. Who is not targeted? White, heterosexual, able-bodied students.

The coming of the super-predator never materialized. The term faded from the public square but much of the attitudes, policies and program remained intact. Like the documented decrease of violent crime in the broader society, incidents of school violence have also decreased. Yet the message that we keep getting bombarded with is that crime is rampant and that we need more police to make us safe.

Cops in schools takes discretion and power away from teachers and administrators and puts it into the hands of police who often lack the training and clear standards to respond appropriately. That’s how you get someone like deputy Ben Fields in Columbia, South Carolina, who was captured on cell phone video lifting a black girl out of her desk and body-slamming her to the floor. It was later reported that the juvenile’s mother had died recently and she had been put into foster case. Unbridled brutality was the response Fields meted out to a grieving student coping with life-changing circumstances, when a counselor was needed.

Missouri had the highest suspension rate for black elementary school children in the nation. St. Louis Public Schools was a big contributor with 2,023 suspensions to students in kindergarten through third grade in 2015; no white student was suspended. The new policy is no suspension of the little ones, and students of any grade level with drug violations will receive treatment rather than punishment.

We still need to beat back the kiddie felony law, eliminate military equipment to school districts received from the DOJ’s 1033 program, stop all suspensions that are non-violent and non-criminal, recruit more qualified social workers and counselors, and get cops out of our schools.

 

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