Schools question the role of police on campus

·2 min read

Data: U.S. Department of Education; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Some school districts are weighing removing police from their hallways and offering more mental health services to students as a way to address behavioral issues that too frequently escalate into disciplinary matters, especially among Black youth.

Why it matters: Advocates of these initiatives point to a lack of evidence that increased police presence in schools actually improves safety and instead could "significantly disrupt learning environments."

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The big picture: Concern about crime brought police to schools and led to a "zero tolerance" policy for discipline violations. Police became more involved in school disciplinary actions, which were applied more often to Black and Hispanic students than their white classmates. For older students especially, those interactions can give them an early introduction to the criminal justice system, the Justice Policy Institute found.

  • Disabled students are also disproportionately affected negatively when police or school resource officers rather than teachers and administrators maintain discipline, according to a 2019 study by UCLA professor Emily Weisburst and a white paper from think tank R Street Institute.

  • 14 million U.S. students are in schools with police but have no mental health services staff like counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers, per an ACLU analysis.

By the numbers: The suspension rates for Black and American Indian/Alaska Native youth in elementary and secondary schools were about two to four times those of white students in 2015-16, according to federal data.

  • Black youths make up 14% of all youth under 18 in the U.S., but 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Native youth are also overrepresented in juvenile facilities.

What's happening: Dozens of school boards across the U.S. have voted to end or reduce the presence of police in schools since the police killing of George Floyd last year, per the Hechinger Report.

  • In June of last year, the school board in Madison, Wis., voted unanimously to cancel its contract with municipal police and remove all officers stationed at its high schools, a move Black and Southeast Asian activists had sought for five years.

  • This fall, the Alexandria, Va., public schools will be without police on campus for the first time in 30 years. The district recently voted to end the $800,000 program and redirect the money for students' mental health initiatives, the Washington Post reports.

Yes, but: There is still pressure from communities to have police in schools as a potential line of defense if an active shooter were to come on campus or as an opportunity to expose officers as mentors and role models for some students.

  • "It’s a difficult bell to unring because nobody wants to pull police out of a school and then have something horrible happen and then be blamed," Joanna Paxton Federico, a doctoral student at Rutgers University studying policy responses to mass school shootings, tells Axios.

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