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Crime & Justice

New report finds schools' reliance on police harms black, poor students most




Los Angeles School Police Sgt. Robert Carlborn watches over students lining up to pass through a security check point.
Los Angeles School Police Sgt. Robert Carlborn watches over students lining up to pass through a security check point.
David McNew/Getty Images

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A study released Wednesday has renewed the ongoing debate over whether police should be called to school campuses for disciplinary issues.

Published by the the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the study claims districts are increasingly turning to police to deal with student discipline problems, a practice that disproportionately impacts minority students, poor students and students with disabilities.

"Studies have consistently found that black students are far more likely to be referred to the police or referred for suspension and exclusion from school based on discretionary offenses, such as disorderly conduct or willful defiance," ACLU of Northern California attorney and study author Linnea Nelson told Airtalk’s Larry Mantle Wednesday. 

They were joined by Teri Sorey, President of the Irvine Teachers Association and Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, to discuss the report, as well as whether police officer presence on campus can ever have positive impact.  

Click on the blue playhead above to hear the full discussion, or read highlights below.

Interview highlights

On school districts giving staff too much discretion to call police

Nelson: School districts do not have adequate policies to protect youth against police misconduct and the aggressive criminalization of student behavior... most school districts give staff complete discretion to call police to address student misbehavior that should be handled by school staff...Over two thirds of school districts statewide allow police officers to interview students immediately upon demand, stating that staff shall not hinder or delay interrogations.

On the negative impacts of these practices

Nelson: Studies have consistently found that black students are far more likely to be referred to the police or referred for suspension and exclusion from school based on discretionary offenses, such as disorderly conduct or willful defiance. And those offenses are classically in the eye of the beholder... we're very concerned about the impact of implicit bias on school discipline.

On whether there are benefits to having police on campus

Canady: There are three things that we [police] do in that environment [on a school campus]. One is about school safety. The second piece is about the issue of informal counseling...to have the opportunity to mentor kids. And the third is to be involved in the education process... to teach students about different law-related issues.

On when it's appropriate for school administrators to turn to police

Canady: We're talking about assault or serious bodily injury.

On how school districts should address behavioral issues

Nelson: We need to be sending our students the message that they are scholars, not suspects. Every student deserves an educational environment where they can thrive. Districts in California are spending millions of dollars a year from classroom budgets to put armed police in schools and we need to ensure that schools invest in resources for a quality education, like school counselors and mental health services that keep students in school...Counselors are the best way to go. Counselors are trained to work with students in conflict resolution and to keep youth in school and out of trouble.

Interviews have been edited for clarity. Hear the full discussion by clicking the playhead above.

Read the ACLU California report:

The Right to Remain a Student ACLU CA Report by Southern California Public Radio on Scribd

Guests:

Linnea Nelson, Education Equity Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California and author of the report

Teri Sorey, President of the Irvine Teachers Association, which has School Resource Officers on its campuses

Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers