The correlation between law enforcement presence and school arrests and referrals is likely higher than is reflected in the voluntarily reported federal data. For example, Hawaii, which reports the highest percentage of students referred to law enforcement and the second highest percentage of students arrested, does not report any law enforcement officer stationed in schools. However, police officers do have a significant presence in Hawaii schools. As recently as 2014, the Hawaii County Police Department received a federal grant to fund school police officers, and in 2015, Hawaii News Now reported that in the city of Wetumpka alone, 20 police officers were assigned to schools.
Recent incidents — like a police officer in South Carolina violently tearing a young girl from her desk or an officer in North Carolina body slamming a young girl — have prompted many to question whether police officers belong in schools. Data reports, like last week’s Education Week reporting, show us that school policing is a matter of nationwide significance that affects racial justice and educational equity. When students of color are met with a police response, they are also more likely to be a part of the 1.6 million students who attend a school with a cop but no counselor.
Approaching the education of children through law and order policies is wrong. It perpetuates fear tinged by racial stereotypes and undermines the supportive learning environment that every child deserves. In the words of Justice Stevens, school is the “first opportunity most citizens have to experience the power of government. . . . The values they learn there, they take with them in life.”
Our schools should not prepare Black children to be treated as criminals. Rather, all children should learn from their education that they are valued and deserving of support.