Promoting Student Safety With Police-Free Schools

Posted November 17, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Portrait of African American schoolgirl smiling at camera sitting at her desk with books during a lesson

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.

Read the report

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.

Report Con­clu­sions

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.

Read about restora­tive jus­tice as a promis­ing approach to juve­nile jus­tice reform

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