WHEN COPS TAKE ON SCHOOL DISCIPLINE, KIDS ARE PUSHED INTO THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
A new report released Wednesday by the the ACLU of California takes a look at school districts’ over-reliance on law enforcement officers to discipline students, which leads to the disproportionate criminalization of poor and minority kids and teens.
During the 2013-2014 school year, in California’s K-12 schools, kids were referred to police 22,746 times, and students were arrested 9,540 times, according to data from the US Department of Education.
According to the report, California’s school districts still overuse police officers to respond to students’ violations of school rules and when kids commit status offenses and other minor infractions—often problems that could be handled by school administrators and counselors.
The prevalence of this problem can partly be attributed to unclear or missing policies regarding law enforcement officers’ role in schools and when teachers should ask cops to intervene. Around 60% of schools give teachers and staff full discretion to call the police on students for violations of school rules, for bullying and harassment, for school disruption, and for vandalism.
“…Many districts have failed to adopt firm policies on interactions between students and law enforcement, which encourages school officials to rely on police, rather than principals, counselors or other administrators, to enforce discipline,” said Sylvia Torres-Guillén, education equity director for the ACLU of California. “In many cases districts have adopted policies requiring staff to call the police to address even minor disruptions or violations of school rules.”
Parents do not have to be notified before their child is interviewed by a cop in 97.5% of the state’s school districts.
Fewer than 1% of school districts stipulate that an adult (other than a police officer) must be present when kids are questioned to ensure that students’ civil rights are protected. Just 1% of districts have a policy dictating that cops and school staff make sure kids know their Miranda rights. And in many districts, there are no barriers to police taking kids off school grounds.
Unless there is an immediate threat to the physical safety of those on campus, the report says that counselors and school staff—not cops—should deal with minor, non-violent infractions like disrupting class, vandalism, substance abuse, bullying, truancy, being late to class, “defiance,” profanity, and public displays of affection. (One kid in San Bernardino was reportedly choked, pepper sprayed, and beaten by a cop for hugging his girlfriend at school.)
The ACLU also calls for district officials to establish clear policies regarding circumstances in which law enforcement can arrest kids and/or take them off school property. According to the report, in those rare circumstances, an officer should have a warrant or court order to arrest and remove students.
School districts should also be collecting detailed data on interactions between cops and students, and should develop a process through which kids and parents can submit complaints against police.
The report has many examples individual stories that illustrate why the ACLU thinks reining in police presence on campuses is vitally important. Here’s just one:
In 2015, the 13-year-old daughter of Anita Wilson-Pringle was strip-searched at Serrano Middle School in San Bernardino.
A female vice-principal forced the eighth grade girl to pull her bra away from her body and shake it. When the girl tried to cover her breasts for modesty, the vice-principal pulled her hands away. This all took place under the observation of a male officer employed by the district police department.
After hearing about the incident from her daughter, Wilson-Pringle visited the school seeking an explanation, but the school would not release an incident report or even give her the police officer’s name. Wilson-Pringle’s daughter felt so violated after the incident that her grades plummeted. Wilson-Pringle reported, “She hasn’t been herself…She makes sure she doesn’t have any kind of contact with any of the principals, with any of the teachers. She does her work and comes home.”
And in the larger picture, funding should be shifted from school cops to teachers, counselors, and restorative justice practices, according to the report. “The ACLU firmly believes that school districts and law enforcement agencies should never permanently assign police officers to school campuses,” the report reads.
CALIFORNIA JUSTICE DEPARTMENT’S 4TH ANNUAL TRUANCY REPORT
California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ latest annual report on chronic absence and truancy in California revealed that around 210,000 CA elementary students (from kindergarten through fifth grade) missed 10% of the 2015-2016 school year or more. That’s 7.3% of the state’s elementary school population.
AG Harris’ report found that the overall rate of chronic absence was even higher for preschool students. From a sample of more than 36,000, 8% of pre-K students were considered chronically absent.
Harris stressed the importance of reining in truancy and chronic absence in elementary schools: “Chronically absent children are far more likely to drop out of school and enter into the criminal justice system. This is a solvable problem: with better data, monitoring, and communication with parents, we can continue to make significant strides toward ensuring students are in school and on track to meet their full potential.”
While the rate of chronic absence in 2015-2016 did not differ between genders, special education students and kids of color had much higher numbers.
The absence rate for black students—14%—was double that of the general population of elementary-aged kids. Black students that were also homeless had the highest the chronic absence rate of all student subsets included in the report: 22%. And 77% of all chronically absent elementary school students are also low-income. Poor students were given 82% of all suspensions.
The report recommends lowering the number of days students are absent because of suspensions by supporting smart and therapeutic teacher responses to unwanted behavior at school, rather than punitive ones (as seen in the above report on police in schools).
The state’s truancy rate continues to climb, according to the report. More than 25% of all K-5 students were truant during the 2014-2015 year, up from 23.2% during the previous year.
And while black students represented just 5% of the overall population of elementary school kids, they accounted for 22$ of suspensions (and 28% of students suspended for three or more days) statewide.
The AG’s report highlights the need for “better systems to track, monitor, and respond to chronically absent students.”
At the end of the current school year, for the first time ever, all school districts and other education agencies will be required to report absence data to the California Department of Education.