Washington, DC – On March 4th, Blocks Together joined youth of color from across the country to hold a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol followed by a march to the White House to call on Congress and the Obama administration to reject school safety policies that criminalize students of color, immigrant youth, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities, and push them out of school.
Youth and parent leaders from states including California, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, and Washington, DC gathered to give testimony about the impact of increased police presence, armed guards and metal detectors in their schools and to demand that the voices of youth of color be included in the conversation on gun violence prevention and school safety.
BT Youth Council Member Emony Tate wears prison jumpsuit and holds sign that says ‘No cops in school’ at the “No Peace with a Piece” march to the Whitehouse
Speakers urged legislators and the White House to focus on investing in proven positive approaches to discipline like Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), social and emotional learning, Restorative Justice, and the hiring and training of counselors, social workers, and community intervention workers.
In January President Obama laid out an impressive plan to meaningfully address the causes of gun violence and highlighted the importance of fostering a nurturing school climate to help prevent school violence. Part of the President’s plan would enable U.S. schools to hire up to 1,000 more school police or school counselors. We are concerned by any plan that could result in more police in schools.
“What our schools need are programs that promote peaceful conflict resolution that will strengthen our communities,” said Dwayne Hoye, a member of Blocks Together and the Dignity in Schools Campaign, and a graduate of Orr Academy High school in Chicago. “We already have approximately two police officers per public school in Chicago and in spite of that, I never felt any safer in my school. I wish they had used those resources to train my teachers and school staff on how to prevent conflict instead.”
Schools around the country have invested heavily in security measures such as metal detectors, armed police officers and school resource officers (SROs), often with devastating results for students – especially students of color, LGTBQ students, and students with disabilities. As research by the American Psychological Association and others has shown, these measures, which are usually implemented along with “Zero Tolerance” discipline policies that employ suspensions and expulsions, have neither increased graduation rates nor made students feel safer. In fact, they have increased the time students spend out of school and increased arrests and referrals to the justice system – especially for nonviolent student behavior like “disrespect” – and further increased racial disparity in school exclusion and educational outcomes.
The FBI, Secret Service, and the President’s proposal have noted that a key to preventing school violence is to improve the sense of connectedness and communication between students and school staff. While practices like positive behavior support, social and emotional learning, and restorative justice all help to improve such connectedness, research shows that involving law enforcement in school discipline can actually breed alienation and distrust.