Police presence in schools is detrimental for students, new study finds

In Massachusetts during the 2015-16 school year, Black and Latinx students made up 27% of all students, but 64% of student arrests. Photo by Steven Depolo/Creative Commons

By Haley Lerner
BU News Service

The presence of police in Massachusetts schools is detrimental to students and disproportionately harms Black and brown children, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The policy report from Citizens for Juvenile Justice and Strategies for Youth found that Black and brown students and students with disabilities are “disproportionately targeted” for in-school arrests. In Massachusetts during the 2015-16 school year, Black and Latinx students made up 27% of all students, but 64% of student arrests.

The presence of police in Massachusetts schools increases arrests for low-level offenses and harms student mental health, the report found. Schools with police reported 3.5 times as many arrests as schools without police.

Leon Smith, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, said in an interview that there has been a huge conversation about the need for policing following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. He said the report helps back advocates’ argument that police should not be in schools.

“The presence of police in schools has a harmful and detrimental effect on young people, particularly young people of color,” Smith said. “It leads to an increase in criminalization of low level offenses that are better handled by school discipline and it has a detrimental impact on the overall school climate.”

After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Massachusetts passed the Gun Violence Reduction Act which required all schools to assign at least one resource officer per district.

But, the report found there is little evidence that an armed police officer can protect students from threats such as active shooters. In nearly 200 school shootings nationwide, police on campus successfully intervened twice, the report cites from an analysis conducted by The Washington Post.

Smith said he hopes this can lead to an amendment to the Gun Violence Reduction Act that allows local governments to determine whether they should have police placed in schools.

Juvenile justice advocates held an online panel Tuesday to discuss the new report alongside students and family members of those affected by policing in schools.

Worcester activist Cassandra Bensahih spoke on the panel about how her daughter, who at the time was 12-years-old, was arrested for forgetting to bring in a homework assignment to class in 2013 at a middle school in Webster.

Bensahih was never called about the incident and only found out when her daughter was dropped off at their house in a police car.

Her daughter was suspended from school for seven days, put on probation for a year, required to pay a $150 fine and complete four hours of community service. The incident is on her juvenile record permanently.

“These things are so upsetting to a parent,” Bensahih said. “I send my child to school to learn. I didn’t send her to school to get a criminal record.”

Scott Edmond, founder of Framingham Families for Racial Equity in Education and parent of children in Framingham Public Schools said there is a “school-to-prison pipeline” that brings disciplinary charges mainly toward Black and brown students.

Edmond and other parents launched an online petition calling for the removal of student resource officers from Framingham schools that has garnered almost 700 signatures.

“We need to imagine a world where Black Lives Matter and the structures and policies support a positive and equitable learning environment in all schools for all students and their families,” he said.

Bensahih said in an interview after the panel that she thinks the new report shows that schools need to find more empathetic solutions for dealing with children who get in trouble in school.

“No matter how many police they put in these schools, kids do not feel safer,” Bensahih said. “When will we use the data to get the real solutions to help our Black and brown kids be better or get the resources that they need?”

This article was originally published in The Telegram.

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