WORCESTER – Community leaders and activists gathered for a virtual meeting on Wednesday night to present information about policing in schools, as well as holistic models of school safety as Worcester Public Schools cut school resource officers ( ORS).
“Here in Worcester, we took a vote to pull the police out of the school and really look at how to holistically approach school safety and public health safety,” said City Councilor General Khrystian King, who animated the discussion.
City councilors voted to remove school resource officers from Worcester public schools by 2022 earlier this year.
The session began with a presentation by Leon Smith, Executive Director of Boston-based Citizens for Juvenile Justice (CfJJ), and was followed by a panel discussion on models for holistic and inclusive school safety plans.
“Failed: School Police in Massachusetts” Report Discussed
During his presentation, Smith discussed five findings from a report written by CfJJ and Strategies for Youth titled “Fail: School Policing in Massachusetts”.
The report’s first finding, he said, showed that there is little convincing evidence that the presence of armed law enforcement in schools has many effects on school safety.
Smith pointed to the “common argument” of police presence during school shootings and explained that in an analysis of nearly 200 cases of gun violence on campuses, there were only two cases, or 1%, in which an OAR has successfully intervened.
The second finding was that the presence of police officers in schools increased school arrests for “low-level non-violent behavior,” which Smith said was traditionally dealt with by school discipline officials.
“When you compare schools that have police officers nationally, as opposed to schools that don’t, schools with a police officer inside have 3.5 times more arrests than schools without police,” did he declare.
The third finding, Smith explained, was that black and brown college students, as well as students with disabilities, are “disproportionately targeted for arrest on criminal citations for minor school offenses.”
He said that during their research, in focus groups, SROs said the line between behavior requiring school discipline and law enforcement intervention was blurred.
“You will see discipline, school arrests, out-of-school suspensions, expulsion rates, a high level of disparity between black and white girls,” Smith said.
The fourth result shows that regular police interactions, both inside and outside school, have a negative impact on students’ academic performance.
“When you look at federal police grants, where you put police officers in schools, you have higher discipline rates among black students, graduation rates go down, and college enrollments go down again,” Smith said. “This sight of a policeman does not always bring comfort, and sometimes it exacerbates this trauma.”
The fifth and final finding of the report showed that the presence of police officers at school had an overall negative effect on the school climate.
“Where you have police in schools, you rely more on surveillance; you have more searches and seizures; you have inappropriate sharing of confidential information, including law enforcement sharing information with other law enforcement entities, encouraging students to learn about each other which is amazingly detrimental to the overall trust within the student body and the student and the overall school environment, ”Smith explained.
Alternative and holistic models presented
Following Smith’s discussion of the report, panelists took turns presenting alternative and holistic models of school safety.
One suggested model was a multi-level therapeutic response to bad behavior by Erin Stewart, CfJJ Skadden member and one of the panelists.
“Essentially, it means as behaviors escalate, there’s a greater need, there is a greater response,” said Stewart. “What we are seeing with this is that students are given an individual response rather than a collective or simply based on ideas.”
She said this could be accomplished by adopting District-wide Positive Behavioral Support and Interventions (PBIS).
“PBIS is another evidence-based intervention approach,” said Stewart. “This is not a program. It is a commitment to approach student behavior in an individualized manner and based on the needs of each student.”
She also pointed out that tutoring, after-school and summer programs help prevent discipline issues.
Stewart also discussed the need to improve the school climate, as well as offering alternatives to disciplinary measures such as suspensions or expulsions, such as students coming on Sundays to clean up the school.
“We see, when it comes to Worcester public schools, that the American School Psychology Association recommends a student / counselor ratio of 250 to 1,” said Stewart. “This would translate into 96 counselors for the 24,000 students at Worcester Public School, which means we will need a boost for these additional mental health resources so they can fill in the gaps by relocating officers school resources. “
Stewart pointed to cities such as Denver, which have chosen to allocate their police budget to mental health services.
“They have allocated $ 625,000 in the school police budget for student mental health resources, restorative and trauma-informed practices, and behavioral health supports,” she said.
Another alternative proposed by Stewart was a model launched in Minneapolis. The school district hired 11 security support specialists to take on the role of policing in schools.
“They are not armed, they do not wear handcuffs or pepper spray and they have no power of arrest,” said Stewart. “They are actively helping students rather than feeding more of the school-to-prison pipeline.”
The diversion of funding and resources from school policing to social workers, counselors and mental health resources would allow them to focus more on the community, allowing students to take an active role rather than supervising them, a- she declared.
Other panelists, including Sana Fadel, deputy director of CfJJ, explained how the citizens of Worcester could get involved in developing plans to use funds that would solve the problems of the pandemic which have particularly affected students in the communities. marginalized.
The panel discussion also included former students from Worcester Public School who had the opportunity to discuss the impact of police in schools on their education and explain why they are also advocating for a more holistic approach to school safety.
The panel ended with a question-and-answer session.
A new safety plan is expected to be presented to city leaders by a task force by the end of the year and adopted to replace school resource officers by January.