More cops in schools, more kids in court

When police patrol school campuses, misbehavior is criminalized,reports the New York Times. Students who might have been sent to the principal’s office for “scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers” end up in court.

Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts, often with federal subsidies, have paid local police agencies to provide armed “school resource officers” for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools. Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.

. . . “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

In Texas, school-based police officers write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin. Students face fines, community service and, in some cases, a criminal record. Her group and the NAACP have filed a federal civil rights complaint charging one Texas district issues four times more citations to blacks than whites.

In the wake of Newtown, many districts are hiring police officers to guard schools. But once they’re on campus, cops usually end up enforcing discipline.

We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses,” Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said in a speech to the Legislature in March.

Do cops make schools safe?

Do police officers make your schools safer? Los Angeles students don’t think so, reports Colorlines.

South Dakota has passed a law allowing teachers to carry guns in school.

After Sandy Hook, what can we do?

There’s little we can do to prevent another school massacre, writes Megan McArdle. Confiscating 300 million semi-automatic weapons now in private hands is unconstitutional and politically impossible. So is locking up mentally ill people who haven’t hurt anyone and probably never will. So is banning the media from naming killers.

My guess is that we’re going to get a law anyway, and my hope is that it will consist of small measures that might have some tiny actual effect, like restrictions on magazine capacity.  I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

But I doubt we’re going to tell people to gang rush mass shooters, because that would involve admitting that there is no mental health service or “reasonable gun control” which is going to prevent all of these attacks.  Which is to say, admitting that we have no box big enough to completely contain evil.

The odds that any school will be attacked are very, very small. The money elementary schools spend on armed guards or police officers is money that can’t be spent on a reading specialist to get struggling students on track, a music teacher to motivate kids, a counselor to work with kids years before they became angry loners, etc.

At the elementary school where I tutor, one of the first grade teachers had locked her door on Wednesday. I knocked and a kid let me in to pick up my tutee. My other first grader ran up to me as I was leaving, smiled and “shot” me three times with his finger. He smiled again and ran off to join the recess crowd. I have no idea what that meant. Probably nothing. Earlier, he’d pretended he was an airplane as we walked along. He’s a little boy.

The lesson of Sandy Hook for education reformers is to honor the heroism of teachers and administrators and “tone down any rhetoric that implies that a typical teacher isn’t committed to doing right by her or his students,” writes Mike Petrilli, the father of two young boys.

That’s not to say we should relax our efforts to identify and remove ineffective teachers from the classroom; just as there’s the occasional bad cop, there’s the occasional bad teacher. Like the police force, the teaching force is much stronger without them. But neither should we ignore indications from the field that many teachers, including great teachers, have been feeling unappreciated, villainized, and blamed.

“Let us commit to bringing America’s heroic teachers and school leaders along with us on the path to reform, not to view them as the targets of reform—or of our scorn.”