Promoting Student Safety With Police-Free Schools
A new blueprint aims to limit school policing practices that disproportionately harm students of color — particularly girls. Called Fulfilling the Promise: A Blueprint to Build Police-Free Schools, the report introduces a roadmap for boldly creating learning environments that better support student academic achievement. The Center on Gender Justice & Opportunity at Georgetown Law released the report with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Police in schools, commonly known as school resource officers (SROs), increase the likelihood that minor incidents — such as cursing or noncompliance — will be criminalized. “This report should be particularly helpful to schools and school districts that want to remove police but face implementation challenges,” says Ismanuela Denis, a Casey program associate.
Compared to their white peers, students of color are arrested by SROs at disproportionately higher rates, which exposes them to the school-to-prison pipeline. Although discussions about this pipeline tend to focus on boys of color, SROs arrest girls of color at higher rates than their white counterparts. In fact: When compared to their white peers, Black girls are six times more likely to be referred to SROs and 3.66 times more likely to be arrested at school, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.
According to the report, “Girls of color, in particular — especially Black girls — enrolled in schools with police are less likely to report feeling safe than girls in schools without them.” Research indicates these officers have also been linked to lower student success outcomes. Additionally, school discipline associated with SROs accelerates truancy and dropout rates and creates barriers to higher education and employment.
Establishing Police-Free Learning Environments
Fulfilling the Promise identified 69 school districts in 17 states and the District of Columbia that have enacted policies to create police-free schools. Some districts have engaged community-based organizations to monitor and de-escalate situations instead of calling in the police. Others have invested in better mental health services and restorative justice programs.
The report’s blueprint for action seeks to establish police-free learning environments via a four-phase process.
- Phase One: School leaders and others commit to eliminating racial and gender disparities in how schools respond to student behavior. They treat the removal of police from schools as one component of a broader effort.
- Phase Two: Educators, the police department, students, parents and community groups build consensus for feasible ways of carrying out formal policies. Regular coalition meetings can include information about the evidence underlying the need to remove SROs.
- Phase Three: Policymakers enact or support laws that allow schools to redirect SRO funding in the name of bolstering school safety. Investment in professional development and training for educators and administrators is key to transitioning away from reliance on SROs.
- Phase Four: Stakeholders meet regularly to share their thoughts on how the transition to police-free learning is unfolding. The implementation group should utilize this feedback to revise its goals and policies, and school districts should issue annual reports that are publicly available online.
Fulfilling the Promise notes that of the 69 school districts identified in the report, 19 ultimately reversed their initial policy commitment to removing SROs and reinstated them in some form. In most cases, these reversals were a response to incidents of school violence — even if the incident occurred elsewhere in the country.
Key takeaways from the report include:
- Educators ultimately rely on SROs for situations that do not merit police action.
- In districts that have made significant progress in removing SROs, students of color feel safer.
- Violence has generally not increased in schools after the removal of SROs.
- Policies for removing SROs will likely have limited success without guidelines for when to call the police and a comprehensive plan for minimizing police involvement in school discipline.