As policymakers call for more school police in response to safety concerns, a new analysis of federal data shows that many students don't have access to other kinds of staff necessary for safety and support—staff like school nurses, social workers, and psychologists.
As a result of safety discussions that focus on shootings, rather than the broader range of safety concerns and student needs, "schools are under-resourced and students are overcriminalized," says the report, released Monday by the ACLU. The analysis also found that disproportionately high arrest rates for students of color and students with disabilities are continuing, while there was a 17 percent growth in school-based referrals to law enforcement from 2013-14 to 2015-16.
"The consequences for these funding decisions fall on the most vulnerable students," the report says."Teachers are often not equipped to deal with the special needs posed by children with disabilities. Furthermore, historically marginalized students, such as students of color, may attend schools with fewer resources and supports. When there are no other behavioral resources at hand, some teachers request help from law enforcement. This results in an increased criminalization of our youth: we found that schools with police reported 3.5 times as many arrests as schools without police."
The analysis comes at a time of high concern about student mental health. The suicide rate among children ages 10 to 17 increased by 70 percent between 2006 and 2016, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.
Using the most recent federal data, collected by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015-16, the ACLU analysis found that:
- 1.7 million students are in schools with police but no counselors.
- 3 million students are in schools with police but no nurses.
- 6 million students are in schools with police but no school psychologists.
- 10 million students are in schools with police but no social workers.
The analysis also provides a state-by-state breakdown of staffing levels for each of those positions, showing how far they diverge from the recommendations of professional associations that represent various student support staff.
No state met the recommended ratio of one social worker for every 250 students, according to the analysis. Four states meet the recommended ratio of one school psychologist for every 700 students. About 33 percent of schools reported that they did not have a nurse on staff.
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Most states fell well below the recommended ratio of one school counselor for every 250 students.
"School counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists are frequently the first to see children who are sick, stressed, traumatized, may act out, or may hurt themselves or others," the report says. "This is especially true in low-income districts where other resources are scarce."
As I wrote recently, many states have created new mandates for school police or provided additional funding for districts to hire them in response to the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Florida, for example, now requires an officer or a trained "school guardian" in every school. And the U.S. Department of Justice increased local grant funding that local agencies can use to create school police positions.
But—while many safety discussions have included calls for more resources for mental health and student supports—there has been less of an effort to provide targeted funding for schools to meet those needs.
And civil rights groups, like the ACLU, have raised concerns about the level of preparation school police have to work with students.
Learn more about student mental health concerns and suicide prevention efforts in this piece Education Week's Lisa Stark reported for the PBS Newshour: