By Megan Sauer
Black Lives Matter activists have pushed to cut police funding, but they also are protesting the presence of police in schools. However, some experts and a school shooting survivor said this week that the officers are important in keeping schools safe.
Following the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Florida joined several U.S. states that either require or allow public schools to staff armed officers. In the same year as the Parkland shooting, a student gunman opened fire in Santa Fe High School. Survivor Grace Johnson told a Heritage Foundation briefing that she supports keeping armed officers in schools.
“We were in the band hall just down the hallway, and if the officers weren’t armed, maybe we would have been next,” Johnson said. Like the other speakers present at the forum, Johnson thinks officers should still have to complete extensive training, psychiatric evaluations and background checks before they are allowed in schools.
There is no federal law requiring or prohibiting armed officers on school campuses, leaving individual states to come up with policies that coincide with how communities feel their students will be best protected.
Jonathan Butcher, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Education Policy, and Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at the Meese Center, called the demand to remove police officers, called School Resource Officers, “political opportunism” following George Floyd’s death.
Florida State Representative Byron Donalds agreed, saying school districts
are really getting caught up in politics — the reality is our SROs do far more good in our schools.”
“If there are school districts around the country that are following this defund the police movement, frankly to score political points or to look good, what they’re actually doing is creating a vacuum of enforcement of what’s acceptable in schools,” he said.
Johnson and Donalds emphasized the importance of community input, particularly from students, in schools’ decisions.
In June, Chicago students, teachers’ union and labor unions created the #PoliceFreeSchools coalition and generated enough support to get the Chicago Board of Education to reconsider the Chicago Public Schools’ contract with the Chicago Police Department. The board voted 4-3 to maintain the $33 million agreement.
Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bolton praised the Board of Education decision.
“Local school communities have spent countless hours engaging parents, staff and students in critical conversations, and CPS is grateful that the Board has honored their decisions regarding SROs for the upcoming school year,” she said.
Following the June decision, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she understood citizens’ concerns regarding policed schools, but still believes they are need to keep schools safe.
Since taking on a districtwide discipline approach — focusing on restorative justice — in 2012, there has been a sharp decline in suspensions and expulsions. According to CPS’s head of safety and security, there was a 46% decrease in the number of CPS students referred to police in the 2018-2019 school year.
On their website, the #PoliceFreeSchools coalition still advocates for the removal of SROs in CPS.
“SROs have physically assaulted students like Dnigma Howard, who was only 16 when she was dragged down the stairs and tased after getting caught using her cellphone, and have unjustly placed thousands of others on the Chicago Gang Database,” the homepage reads. “We know that the police in our schools have racially profiled, harassed, and killed black and brown youth.”