Here is an op-ed on school safety by Judge Steven Teske of the Clayton County Juvenile Court and Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the national civil rights group Advancement Project.
By Judge Steven Teske and Judith Browne Dianis
In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Newtown, policymakers across the nation are grappling with how we keep our schools and communities safe. Georgia is no exception. Local school districts in Georgia and across the nation are developing plans to create their own police departments.
While the safety of our children is our highest priority, we must not allow isolated acts of violence to result in reactionary policies that, though well-intentioned, actually undermine school safety and the educational outcomes of our children.
Research shows police in schools operating absent a written protocol do not increase safety, and they do not catch early indicators of mental health needs, identify root causes of underlying violence, or use the resources of law enforcement in an effective way. Instead of addressing serious threats to safety, police in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by criminalizing the young people they were intended to protect.
We saw this in Clayton County. After placing police officers on middle and high school campuses in the late 1990s, school-related arrests skyrocketed. However, the vast majority of cases that reached juvenile courtrooms were for misdemeanors involving school fights, disorderly conduct, and disruption. The court docket was consumed with low-risk cases involving kids who made adults mad versus kids who scare us.
Despite the many arrests, school safety did not improve. The number of serious weapons brought to campus increased during this period, including guns, knives, box cutters, and straight edge razors. At the same time, the graduation rate decreased, reaching an all-time low. As more students were arrested, suspended and expelled from our school system, the juvenile crime rate in the community significantly increased because probation officers were forced to focus on low risk students rather than real threats to safety.
The recidivism rate increased to over 70 percent as high risk kids were receiving less supervision. Our growing reliance on police to handle minor school disciplinary infractions was negatively impacting the entire community.
Fortunately, as policymakers consider school safety proposals, they don’t have to repeat Clayton County’s mistakes. Instead they can look to models from across the country that promote strategies that foster care, connectedness, and support in our schools.
Consider Denver for example: the police department and the school district partnered with the grassroots youth and parent group, Padres & Jovenes Unidos, in reaching a historic agreement which limits the role of police in schools. The agreement also provides due process protections for students and parents, helps ensure our children are on a path to college or career; requires community input on the policing process; mandates training on the role of police; and clarifies the rights afforded to students. These measures protect children and allow police to do what they do best: keep our communities safe.
We applaud this agreement because it unites youth and parents with the police department and the school district in developing a long-term plan to protect our children and truly transform our schools. The plan is similar to a memorandum of understanding developed in Clayton County.
Like Denver, we created a cooperative agreement between government agencies that prohibits referrals to law enforcement for minor acts of misconduct, and instead implements a graduated approach to assigning disciplinary consequences, including a warning after the first offense and a referral to a school conflict workshop on the second offense.
We also created a multidisciplinary panel to assess the needs of students at risk for referral to law enforcement, and to refer them to services outside of the school such as family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and wrap-around services. This approach worked for Clayton County and we fully expect it’ll work for Denver.
The bottom line is simple: we need common sense approaches to school safety that give parents and teachers the support they need to create safe, high quality schools that place children on a path to college or careers, rather than prison. We also need more collaboration between parents, students, the police department and the school district.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog