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The problem with more cops in schools

I haven’t had anything to say so far about Greg Abbott’s proposed responses to the Santa Fe school shooting. There isn’t much to say about it – these are a bunch of small changes around the margins, all while scrupulously avoiding any mention of ways to understand the causes of gun violence or strategies to actually try to reduce it. It basically takes it as a given that hey, people are gonna get shot, so we may want to try to make it a little harder on the shooters. RG Ratcliffe has a critique that’s worth reading, but Mimi Swartz really gets at an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

But overall, the governor’s plan to address school safety is profoundly regressive in ways that go far beyond the gun control debate. His call for more police and more military style security raises crucial questions about what kind of places schools should be. Specifically, his plans for more armed guards, armed teachers, and armed staffers will erase a decade or so of progress in making schools more welcoming—and Texas’ kids better educated.

Maybe few Texans recall the Zero Tolerance era, which started with the Pre-Columbine U.S. Congress’ Gun Free Schools Act in 1994 that required a one year automatic expulsion for any kid who brought a gun to school. The Clinton Administration encouraged schools receiving federal funding to adopt the tenets of gun free schools, which became the basis of zero tolerance policies in other areas. There were many unexpected consequences, especially punishments for minor infractions that could be looped in with the War on Drugs—along with entering a classroom without permission, or roughhousing on a school bus, kids could be expelled for bringing asthma inhalers and Sudafed to school. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that the Zero Tolerance Era coincided with the Tough on Crime Era of the Bush and Clinton administrations which led to exponential increases in prison sentences for minor offenses, particularly for men of color. The so-called school to prison pipeline was born.

Over the ensuing years, groups like Texas Appleseed worked overtime to issue reports and lobby the legislature to reduce school suspensions (some of which started in kindergarten) and dire punishments for, say, talking back to teachers. Their reports also showed that so-called Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs were basically low cost jails for kids and profit centers for private companies that did nothing but put good kids in with bad and offered no educational value to either. Studies also showed that putting more police in schools had a detrimental effect on learning, especially among poor and minority kids who were now the target of police abuse both on the street and in schools. It wasn’t surprising that dropout rates increased.

Over time, it became clear that Zero Tolerance just didn’t work. Newer programs like Restorative Justice, which allow kids to have their say and teach them to take responsibility for their actions, have won the support of liberal and conservative groups largely because they do. Even though they can be more labor intensive, they have been shown in numerous studies to keep kids in school and violence down. “What we have shown in our research and what we know experts have documented across the U.S. is that an increase in law enforcement doesn’t lead to a safer school and often results in real harm, particularly for students of color and students with disabilities,” explained Deborah Fowler, Executive Director of Texas Appleseed.

Abbott’s report, then, has the musty whiff of a darker time, despite protestations that more protections—offering gun training to nearly everyone who isn’t a student—are needed to keep kids safe. This despite an FBI report, among others, that shows no statistical evidence that putting more armed people in schools reduces school violence.

There’s more, so read the rest. It’s hard to know how much support there will be for these proposals, even with both chambers getting a head start on studying them. I just hope there are some voices expressing these concerns while that is happening.

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