ACLU White Paper Says Guidelines Needed for Police in Schools

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU White Paper Says Guidelines Needed for Police in Schools

Students' Rights Need to Be Respected While Ensuring School Safety

NEW - Allowing police officers to patrol school campuses without specific
guidelines outlining their roles and responsibilities can create a
harmful environment that unnecessarily pushes students out of school
and into the criminal justice system, according to a new white paper
released today by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The white paper provides specific
policy recommendations for the use of police in schools so that police
officers deployed to schools are given the tools necessary for
maintaining safe school environments while respecting the rights of
students and the overall school climate.

"It is essential that the work of
police on school campuses be guided by formal standards and policies,"
said Catherine Y. Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice
Program and co-author of the white paper. "As the number of police
officers on school campuses across the country continues to grow, there
is a real risk that without concrete guidelines, student behavior will
be unnecessarily criminalized and school environments will become
increasingly toxic."

The white paper identifies six key
policy guidelines that should govern the use of police in schools,
including distinguishing between disciplinary misconduct to be handled
by school officials and criminal offenses to be handled by law
enforcement, and the promotion of non-punitive approaches to student
behavior.

According to the ACLU's white paper,
the number of children arrested or referred to court for minor
disciplinary infractions is on the rise. In South Carolina, for
example, the single most common offense resulting in a juvenile court
referral during the 2007-08 school year was "disturbing schools."
During the same year in Florida, 15 percent of all delinquency
referrals stemmed from school-related conduct, with 40 percent
involving "disorderly conduct" or "misdemeanor assault and battery."
Last year in Birmingham, Alabama, 19 percent of juvenile arrests
resulting in court referral were for school misconduct and, among
those, 33 percent were for fights, 29 percent were for disorderly
conduct and 21 percent were for trespassing or harassment. Studies have
shown that improper school-based arrests dramatically increase the
likelihood of students dropping out of school and reduce students'
chances of succeeding academically.

Children of color and students with
disabilities are disproportionately represented among those students
arrested or referred to court, exacerbating the disturbing national
trend known as the "school-to-prison-pipeline" wherein children are
over-aggressively pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile
and criminal justice systems. 

"There are serious problems with
relying too heavily on police to maintain order and to provide
discipline without ensuring that police understand exactly how they fit
within the overarching educational framework of schools," said I. India
Geronimo, Marvin M. Karpatkin Fellow with the ACLU Racial Justice
Program and co-author of the report. "When arresting kids for
misbehaving becomes the primary mode of discipline, some of our most
vulnerable populations end up being unnecessarily criminalized at very
young ages before alternatives that could lead to academic success are
exhausted."

The white paper also advocates that
any governing policy ensure that police on school campuses be given
minimum training requirements, that the role of police within the
context of the educational mission of the school is explicitly defined,
that police operate in a manner that is transparent and accountable and
that police respect the rights of children in school.

Although there are no available
figures documenting the current number of police officers patrolling
school campuses in the U.S., it is clear that schools across the
country have begun to deploy police on school grounds in growing
numbers. In 2004, for example, studies show that 60 percent of high
school teachers reported armed police officers stationed at their
schools, and in 2005 nearly 70 percent of public school students
between the ages of 12 and 18 said police officers or security guards
patrol their hallways.

Frequently referred to as "School
Resource Officers" or SROs, the police on school campuses are often
sworn police officers employed by local police departments and assigned
to patrol public school hallways full time.

A copy of the ACLU's white paper is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/edu/40816pub20090824.html

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice

Additional information about the school-to-prison-pipeline is available online at: www.aclu.org/stpp

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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