Black and Latino parents weigh in
After 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, schools across the country sent condolences and messages about the safety measures they were taking in response to the shootout.
One measure was to add police to school buildings in the days following the shooting, which some school leaders said would increase security. But for some parents of color, inviting law enforcement into school buildings in response to a shooting isn’t comforting, it’s worrisome.
Four black parents told Education Week that they were concerned about police presence in schools because they feared their children would at the very least be stressed and anxious around the police or, in the worst case scenario, criminalized by the police. ‘school. However, two Latino parents offered a different approach to increasing the police presence at school. They said they believed the officers would contribute to the overall safety of the students and that they were not worried about their children being targeted or profiled by the police.
All parents, however, agreed on one point: more mental health support for students would benefit their children and would be overall effective in helping to prevent school violence.
“I think the biggest problem with the police in schools is that it’s reactionary,” said Shane Paul Neil, a black parent of a 9-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl from Montclair, NJ.
A day after Uvalde’s shooting, he discovered on social media that Gov. Phil Murphy had ordered law enforcement to increase police presence at all schools in New Jersey.
“So the idea of the police being there is really to give a false sense of security to those who feel like they’re doing something for them,” Neil said.
Khulia Pringle, a black parent from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota Region, works with several national organizations, including Dignity in Schools, to get rid of police in schools. A former teacher and current activist, she advocated for the removal of ORS from schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul (something districts did in 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd in that community sparked protests in across the country).
“For years, black and brown parents have been asking for police-free schools, and when we speak up, our voices go unheard,” she said. “But when other people speak, their voices are heard and their voices are raised, and the consequences are these knee-jerk reactionary policies that ultimately affect people who are already oppressed.”
Parents have questions about effectiveness
It’s unclear whether adding police to schools that currently don’t have them or increasing the number of them to schools that do can prevent the shootings. In Uvalde, police were on campus when the shooter killed 21 people in two classrooms. Despite audible gunshots and multiple 911 calls, the shooter spent more than an hour inside the school while police stayed outside the room where he was barricaded, according to the New York Times.
In light of the Uvalde shooting, several national organizations working to remove police from public schools held a press conference this week to discuss the growing evidence that for students of color in particular, concerns related to the presence of police in schools outweigh the benefits.
“School police do not protect students. They don’t prevent or end school shootings,” Ashley Sawyer, senior counsel for the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, said at the press conference.
“We cannot keep going back to the knee-jerk reactionary response of more policing. So we have to go back to what works,” she continued. “And we know it creates a positive school climate and invests vigorously in the kinds of supports young people need to feel safe, whole, affirmed and supported in their school environment.”
The Uvalde shooting is not the first time that delayed action by law enforcement failed to stop an attacker from killing people in a school building. NPR reported that the Uvalde police response is reminiscent of that of law enforcement in past mass shootings, including the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida , in 2018.
The broader conversation about the role of school resource officers – police officers assigned to schools – and their contribution to keeping schools safe has also been much debated across the country since the death of George Floyd in 2020. Two studies conducted last year by researchers from Hamline University and Minnesota Metropolitan State University and the University of Albany found that school resource officers did not necessarily prevent school shootings. The University of Albany study found that while ORS was effective in reducing some types of violence, its presence in schools also intensified suspensions, expulsions, referrals to police, and arrests of students and that black students were more than twice as likely to encounter these forms. discipline than white students.
“If I wasn’t a mother of color, and my kids didn’t have the stigma of being black, and they were the majority, I don’t think [police in schools] would make me uncomfortable,” said Passious Green, a black parent from Virginia Beach, Va. to deal with a possible school shooting.
Paul Neil, who grew up in New York’s Bronx neighborhood and went to a high school with metal detectors and police, found these security measures ineffective in his personal experience.
“Black people as a whole, we try not to interact with the police unless we absolutely have to and to be in a space like a school, it becomes inevitable that you have to interact with them to some degree,” said he declared. . “So that becomes the ultimate worry where a dismissal could become an arrest that would be on their record and it becomes something that they have to deal with, as they’re just trying to get to school.”
Police ‘don’t make black and brown kids feel safe’
Pringle, the Minnesota parent and activist, said adding police to schools in response to a shooting is a reaction meant to appease parents who aren’t concerned about racial profiling by police. She said she has heard from parents across the country who have expressed concerns about themselves or their children being profiled because of their race or immigration status. Pringle believes there is no need for school resource officers or any type of law enforcement to be present on school campuses in general.
“Cops have no place in schools. They are part of the school-to-prison pipeline when it comes to black and brown children. They don’t make black and brown kids feel safe,” she said. “A lot of the time, black and brown kids are criminalized for developmentally appropriate things, things that school can handle.”
Instead, schools should reach out to their communities and partner with local organizations to provide culturally appropriate services and give students more voice and solicit their opinions on school safety, Pringle said.
According to Yahaira Lopez, a black and Latino parent from Boston with a child with special needs, it is not appropriate to increase police presence in schools in response to a shooting. But removing them from schools entirely raises more questions than it answers, she said, because she doesn’t know what an alternative safety measure would entail.
“We don’t want to be overwatched, we don’t want the police targeting our black and brown kids and locking them up,” she said. “But what is the alternative? This is a conversation that we need to have as parents and community leaders, and say, what is the solution?”
According to Lopez, investing in mental health supports and guidance counselors is one answer, but she wonders what can be expected of these professionals in terms of identifying and preventing potentially dangerous student behaviors and what are the additional burdens that teachers will face in the absence of school resource officers. These are critical issues that need to be addressed before removing the police from schools altogether, she said.
“I just want my kids to be safe”
For some other parents of color, however, the police are still responsible and able to protect their children at school. Antonia Chávez, a parent from Tulsa, Okla., speaking through a translator, said she thinks school systems should increase police presence after a shooting because she thinks those responsible for the Law enforcement are better equipped than school employees to respond to emergencies, such as a school shooting.
A few months ago, her 9th grade son’s classmate pulled out a switchblade knife and held it to her son’s stomach at school, she said. Although no one was injured, the incident made Chavez want more security in and around his son’s school.
In theory, police should be able to control violence in schools compared to a security guard, teacher or parent because they are better trained and prepared for those situations, Lopez said. What happened at Uvalde was more of a situational failure than a systemic failure, she believes.
“We should feel frustrated, angry and helpless because all these staff were outside and waiting when they could have done something to prevent more deaths or maybe none of them did. ‘could have died,’ she said through an interpreter.
“I want more security but I understand that the police can’t do much and they haven’t done much from the outside,” she added. “Maybe something could have been done from within.”
Carlos Rivera, a Latino parent from Columbus, Ohio, said he plans to go to his local school board meeting next year, when his children start middle school in Franklin County, to request a police presence. increased in schools, as well as more training. police officers to deal with classroom conflict and other issues that frequently arise in schools, such as fights between students.
Rivera said he is not concerned that his children will be discriminated against or negatively affected by the police presence on campus. “I think as long as the police engage with the community, I don’t think there’s room for discrimination,” he said. “I just want my kids to be somewhere safe, I think real police, who believe in safety, will protect anyone. It doesn’t matter what breed or where they come from.