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Getting Real About School Safety

Armed adults don’t make kids safer. They put them at greater risk.

A 2015 viral video showed an armed officer in South Carolina bodyslamming a teenage girl. (Photo: Screenshot)

A 2015 viral video showed an armed officer in South Carolina bodyslamming a teenage girl. (Photo: Screenshot)

Can we get real about school safety?

Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, there have been at least 239 school shootings in the United States. 438 people were shot and injured in these shootings, and 138 people were killed.

On Valentine’s Day of this year, 14 high school students and three faculty members at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida were gunned down in the hallways and classrooms.

The survivors are demanding that lawmakers take action to get guns out of schools so this carnage might stop.

The National Rifle Association, the Trump administration, and many conservative lawmakers are answering these demands for fewer guns by calling for… even more guns in schools. Specifically, they want more armed guards, and even armed teachers.

Is that really the answer?

Let’s see what the facts tell us: Americans already own about half of all guns in the world, and suffer by far the most gun homicides among developed countries. Breaking it down further, states with more guns have more gun deaths.

All told, we’re home to 5 percent of the world’s population but 31 percent of the world’s mass shooters.

Clearly, guns aren’t the answer. But even beyond the weapons, putting more cops in schools has its own risks.

Our public schools already have legions of armed law enforcement officers, euphemistically called School Resource Officers (SROs), roaming the hallways. As of 2014, at least 30 percent of our public schools had at least one SRO.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had one. And it had two other trained, armed law enforcement officers on the grounds as the massacre was occurring. They neither deterred nor stopped the shooter.

Nationally, we average about five school shootings per month. So while our schools are already teeming with SROs, there’s no evidence that this has kept our students safer.

There’s plenty of evidence, however, that the presence of SROs hurts our students — especially back, Latino, indigenous, LGBTQ, disabled, and low-income students.

The presence of cops in schools has markedly increased the number of these kids who end up in the juvenile justice system — including for minor offenses like graffiti and subjective, childish behavior like “disorderly conduct” and “disobedience.”

As of 2014, 43 states and the District of Columbia arrested black students at school at disproportionately high rates. And black students were far more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to attend schools that employ SROs.

This is no small matter. These types of arrests, detentions, and referrals increase the likelihood that children will have further encounters with the criminal legal system, drop out of school, and suffer unemployment later on.

In other words, the presence of armed officers in schools doesn’t protect our kids. It puts them at risk.

A better way forward for school safety is to invest in training teachers in social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD) to spot and address trauma and stress — to see and teach the whole child. And to invest in restorative justice practices that nurture kids while holding them accountable, to help kids move on from small infractions before things escalate.

Our gun-soaked society is a critical piece of the problem, and strong gun control laws can begin to address that. But another critical piece of the problem is a punitive society that targets vulnerable children for non-violent offenses.

Instead of arming schools — which benefits only the NRA and lawmakers who’ve been bought by them — what our education system needs is resources to support the healthy development of all students.

Then we’re getting real about school safety.

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Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and directs the Criminalization of Poverty project there. She is author of "The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty." Follow her on Twitter: @karendolan

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