Whatever happens in the general society will impact schools! So, as cities and states grapple with the issue of policing, school leaders must get involved in that discussion. Included in the countless questions to be resolved school leaders must ask, “Since the 1990s widespread policing in schools, is there evidence of a reduction of crime? Based on data which students are more likely to be arrested and for what kinds of offences? Is the role of police officers in school to protect or to discipline? What is the individual school’s working relationship with the School Resource Officer (SRO)?
When I was an elementary school principal the school district paid for the services of our SRO whom we shared with a couple nearby schools. The SRO visited our school once or twice each week except on occasions when he or she was needed in other schools.
My experiences with different SROs showed that police officers with effective training in school policing took embraced a mentorship and protective role as opposed treating children like street criminals. Unless a flagrant disciplinary infraction occurs, I did my own investigation before deciding to involve the police. I made a choice not to abdicate my administrative responsibilities to police officers. My position was not always popular with some who would rather have extreme punishments inflicted. However, my conviction allowed me to give young people the benefit of the doubt based on a given situation.
After decades of working in various schools serving diverse populations, I can identify lawless behavior as opposed to behavior warranting the services of mental health professionals. The latter has been far more needed. Schools usually know the habitual offenders and who frequently face unmanageable circumstances not related to school but tend to impinge on teaching and learning. Therefore, if I was sitting at the decision- making table today, I would advocate for more school counselors, social workers, psychologists and behavioral therapist and less, if any, police officers. When young people get support dealing with social emotional issues less outbursts will take place and making more room for the business of schooling.
Some students are from communities that do not have positive relationships with or opinions about police officers. So, a daily presence of the uniformed officers could be threatening. Using well thought out programs, schools can help students bridge the trust gap between police officers and children. A fearful child or one who feels a need to always be defensive will probably not enjoy a positive school experience with decked out officers on patrol.
Making a one-size-fit-all decision to arm all schools with SROs is probably not the most appropriate answer to the controversial issue. My experiences have shown that when students are surrounded with caring adults, who create rigorous lessons and provide ongoing support in a judgement free classroom environment academic achievement increases and off task behaviors decrease.
Whether I was in the role of teacher or administrator, I often asked myself, “Is the action I am about to take one that I would recommend for my own child?” The answer gets much less complicated when a personal touch is added to the equation.