February 19, 2021

Is the Cops In School Question About Practice, People, Or Both?

By Bellwether

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Literacy is power and opportunity, so great to see this from NSVF.

But that’s not what I want to post about today.

There is a lot of important discussion and action on the school – police issue. The Times was on it this week with a big look at changes in LA. As with most things in education it’s important to bear in mind it’s a broad country and lots of places are not making changes. But, it’s clearly a live issue.

This part of the Times story stood out to me for a couple of reasons,

Last summer’s moves by school districts across the country to eliminate or shrink their school police forces were celebrated by activists, who argued that having officers in schools endangered and intimidated students.

But because most of the districts that made these changes have been teaching remotely for much of this school year, they have not yet had an opportunity to see how schools will change in the absence of the police. And some are grappling with what staff and programs should replace the officers.

Minneapolis, where Mr. Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, was among the first districts to take action, with the Board of Education moving quickly to terminate its contract with the city’s police department to provide school resource officers.

To replace them, the district decided to hire roughly the same number of what it calls Emergency Management Safety & Security specialists. After the district posted a job listing asking for candidates with law enforcement backgrounds — it later said this was an error — it ultimately hired a number of candidates who had experience as former police, security or corrections officers, according to reporting by the education news outlet The74.

This prompted some activists to complain that the district was not really eliminating police officers from schools — it was just changing their titles.

First, the activists are right and it highlighted some great reporting by Mark Keieleber about this issue for The 74. Second, it points up an important question here: Should reformers be focused on changing the people doing security work in schools or should they be focused on changing the culture? Or both?

The evidence is pretty clear that Black students experience the presence of police in schools differently than white students. And Cami Anderson makes a compelling point that there is something about having the formal force of law attached to a person that makes any relationship fraught within schools.

Yet the issues are not cut and dry in a lot of places. For instance, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, hardly a conservative or reactionary, notes bluntly, 

“Yeah we’re not gonna do that,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a Friday morning press conference when asked if she would consider canceling CPS’ existing contract with the Chicago Police Department. “Unfortunately, we need security in our schools.”

Back in June I wrote about the rearranging the deck chair risk here, which is a risk anyone who has worked around government hiring and contracting appreciates,

…while counselors are not security guards, they can help with the work of changing the in-school culture that should be the cornerstone of any security approach. Bringing in counselors as police move out can minimize the risk that school districts will simply turn instead to education’s bustling private security business.

Which is why at the end of the day I think we still fundamentally have a culture problem we don’t talk about enough,

If your go-to discipline move is to call the police on young children, then focusing on whether the cops are school-based or a phone call away misses the broader problem: the absence of quality discipline strategies and a mindset that treats kids as if they were criminals.

In education it’s pretty common to conflate and confuse culture with the forms of the solution. For instance, we argue endlessly about accountability policies but don’t talk candidly enough about an education culture that doesn’t have similarly high expectations for all kids. Accountability policy matters, just as school – police policy does, but whatever practices end up in place will reflect those underlying belief systems.

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