February 7, 2013 - Opposing Increased Militarization in Schools
The Education Justice Alliance is a grassroots group of advocates calling for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline in Wake County Public Schools, the largest school district in North Carolina with one of the highest suspension rates in the nation.
The tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in December 2012 weighs heavy on our hearts and minds. We support proactive responses to tragedies such as this – responses that focus on prevention, healing, mental health, peace and restorative justice. We strongly oppose policies and practices that increase the presence of weapons and law enforcement on school grounds.
The increased police presence in schools has led to a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests, particularly for youth of color. A three-year study of numerous schools in the same district with differing police presence found that the schools with police had nearly five times the number of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without a police presence.
We must not repeat mistakes of the past. After the Columbine school massacre, police presence in schools across the country increased dramatically. However, no studies found that this improved school safety. In fact, data show that the increase of police officers and school resources officers in schools results in higher suspension rates and more juvenile and criminal court contact for our youth. This is in spite of the fact that crime and violence in public schools decreased nearly 80% between 1992 and 2010.
National studies and data from the Department of Education show that:
•The majority of student arrests are for discretionary offenses such as disruption, disorderly conduct, and minor school fights.
•Schools are considered the safest places for young people. Most youth victims of violent crime take place outside of school, with less than 2% of all youth homicides occurring in schools.
•The effects of contact with the juvenile justice system can be severe and long-lasting for young people, following them when applying for college, the military or a job.
The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population, but holds 25% of the globe’s incarcerated people. It costs about $10,000 a year to educate a student, but over $30,000 a year to imprison a person. In a country that spends inordinately more imprisoning people than educating them, it is a moral imperative that we upend this unforgivable pattern.
Wake County Public School System already feeds the pipeline at unfathomable rates.
Nearly 18,000 suspensions were given in the 2010-11 school year.
The short-term suspension rate for African American students was six times greater than for white students. The short-term suspension rate for Latino and American Indian students was three times greater than for white students.
“Disrespect of staff” was given as the reason for more than a quarter of the suspensions.
About 3/5 of the reasons given for long-term suspensions was the word “other.”
Black students were punished more harshly than white students who committed the same offense. 72.2% of African American students caught using cell phones for the first time received short-term suspensions, compared to 29.9% of white students.
Some perhaps well-intentioned, but certainly shortsighted local leaders are making knee-jerk proposals to place unarmed guards in all Wake County elementary schools, to arm principals, to have marshals, to have all teachers carry mace or tazers, among other similarly reactionary, ineffective ideas.
We call for doing more than creating the appearance of school safety in ways that diminish a positive, nonviolent school climate and increase the number of weapons and police in schools. We call for identifying the root causes of violence in our schools and communities and addressing them with positive, effective, research-based methods. In fact, crime and violence in schools has dramatically decreased over the past two decades. We call for time, energy and resources devoted to the education of our children, not to the increased militarization of our schools. We demand that the WCPSS school board and administration include the community in the planning and implementation of school security changes when addressing violence and the crisis of mental health.