Placing police in schools makes it more likely for students to be suspended, referred to law enforcement and arrested—and students who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ+ and those with disabilities experience these harms most acutely. Federal funding, which subsidizes police hiring in schools, perpetuates the criminalization, discrimination and mental and physical trauma these students face. While we agree that a safe school produces an environment conducive for learning, there is no reliable evidence that police improve student safety.
That is why the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and several other organizations, sent a letter to President Biden today, asking him to eliminate the use of federal funding for police in schools and invest resources in supporting healthy school climates where students feel safe and can thrive.
In the letter, we urged President Biden to issue an executive order directing the Department of Justice to shift its funding away from supporting school-based police and toward mental health professionals in our nation’s schools. We also encouraged the President to work with Congress to pass a budget that specifically prohibits all federal funding of police in schools, and endorsing the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, soon to be introduced before Congress.
“We need to invest in creating an environment where students feel safe and valued in their schools, not at risk of discriminatory policing,” said David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “That investment must be made by using school-and community-based mental health personnel who prioritize compassion and education in our schools. Our students deserve so much better than the over-policing many currently face.”
The Department of Justice, through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), provided nearly $1 billion in federal grants to state and local governments for the policing, surveillance, hardening and militarization of schools—and granted $50 million in grants in 2020 alone. That investment dwarfs the investment in positive supports students. Schools that employ more school-based mental health providers see fewer disciplinary incidents, improved academic achievement and improved graduation rates. Yet, there are 14 million students in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker—over one-fourth of our student population.
The result of these misplaced priorities is a federalized pipeline that sends students to our broken criminal justice system when students really need genuine support to continue their education. Reporting overwhelmingly shows that schools receiving federal funding to hire more police experience decreases in graduation rates and college enrollment rates, and that police in schools lead to a poorer school climate, incarceration and referrals to family court and the juvenile justice system. Moreover, police presence in schools leads to increased police violence and brutality against young people, as documented in a number of instances in which school-based officers have been captured on video physically assaulting defenseless Black and Brown students. These incidents are traumatizing.
Instead of being victimized by police, our students deserve to be physically safe and supported by counselors and other mental health professionals. Eliminating the federal support of police in schools would be a meaningful step toward creating decency and equity in our education system.
Contact: Ian Weiner, [email protected], c. (202) 662-8387