CT Voices Report:Finds No Evidence to Support that School Resource Officers Make Schools Safer
Updated: Jan 3
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 21, 2021
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Connecticut Voices for Children Report: School Resource Officers (SROs) Increase Exclusionary Discipline for Students of Color, Finds No Evidence to Support
New Haven, Connecticut (December 21, 2021) – Connecticut Voices for Children (CT Voices) today released a report, “Protecting or Pushing Out: The Prevalence and Impact of School Resource Officers in Connecticut,” which found evidence that SROs increased exclusionary discipline for students of color, and failed to find evidence that SROs make schools safer. The report seeks to further build the limited literature on the impact of SROs in Connecticut. “As a state, we can and should do more to support our young people to thrive. School counselors and social workers provide youth with needed mental health resources as well as other prevention and intervention supports—things young people especially need as a result of the continued pandemic,” said Emily Byrne, executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children. “Prioritizing investments in our state’s young people on the front-end rather than punitive measures that push them out of schools is the right thing to do and helps ensure Connecticut youth don’t become involved with the criminal legal system in the first place.” According to the report, the presence of SROs in schools is associated with a significant increase in the risk of students experiencing exclusionary discipline and entering the “school to prison pipeline.” Students in schools with SROs were over three times more likely to be arrested than students in schools without SROs. The percentage of Black students arrested was over 17 times as high in schools with SROs, and the percentage of Latino/a/x students arrested was over ten times as high in schools with SROs. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said, “It is shameful that we are underinvesting in the school counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals our students need—especially when we know so many are struggling with their mental health right now. If we want to make schools safe, we need federal dollars to help make sure all kids have access to the experienced staff and supports they desperately need. That also means listening to the data and recognizing that putting more police in schools too often carries serious consequences for our most marginalized students. I’m glad CT Voices for Children is shedding a light on this important issue.” As outlined in the report, a primary reason reported for employing SROs is the assumption that they make schools safer. However, research indicates that SROs did not appear, on average, to contribute statistically to a measurably safer school climate. This finding is slightly different from the findings in a CT Voices’ 2019 report, which found statistically significant differences for fighting and battery and school policy violations, where schools with SROs had more school policy violations and fighting and battery on average than schools without SROs. The research also indicates that SROs did not appear, on average, to contribute statistically to a better learning environment. Students in schools without SROs had similar Smarter Balanced test scores as students in schools with SROs. “The negative impact of SROs on school students is indeed a pattern,” said Dr. Samaila Adelaiye, a co-author of this report. “A pattern that keeps young people away from schools through exclusionary discipline and introduces them to negative interactions with the criminal justice system. This is also a pattern that disparately affects Black and Brown students, and just thinking about the potential long-term effect of this will make anyone pause. If the educational system aims to produce educated, emotionally socialized young people who will thrive, the evidence suggests that the presence of SROs in schools is a great disservice to them.” From a policy and advocacy perspective, the number of bills regarding SROs introduced during the 2021 legislative session makes it clear that people in Connecticut feel strongly about SROs. To advance real change that keeps students in school and improves school climate, more people will need to reconcile that their own positive experiences with specific police officers do not negate the very real fact that police in schools result in increased child arrests. “There will certainly be situations in which it’s appropriate for teachers and school administrators to call the police, but national data and Connecticut-specific data show that the decades-long experiment of including the police as an integrated part of the school day has not worked out the way policymakers intended it to,” said Dr. Lauren Ruth, a co-author of this report. “The policing system and the educational system were developed to achieve different goals; police officers are not credentialed educators, mental healthcare providers, or social workers. Connecticut should stop expecting that they will produce these outcomes.” Byrne added, “Think of it this way: it’s easier to ride a bicycle up a hill if you have multiple gears to shift when you need more help. If you had only one gear it’d be a lot harder to bike up the hill. And that’s why we’re calling for alternatives to SROs. If we just use this one gear, we’re not taking advantage of the many other possible prevention and intervention solutions that we know are effective, easier, and equitable. When we provide appropriate preventative measures like school counselors and social workers, coupled with appropriate interventions such as restorative practices and wraparound family services—we help kids learn from their mistakes, increase public safety, and prevent problems down the road.” To help the state create safer and more equitable schools for Connecticut’s children the report outlines eight recommendations:
Policymakers and school administrators should re-write policies, procedures, and administrative practices to move away from relying on SROs in schools.
Policymakers and school administrators should build school capacity to offer school-based behavioral support and intervention services and to promote restorative, non-exclusionary approaches to managing student behaviors.
Districts should redirect funding spent on SROs toward behavioral health support staff, including school counselors, social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, and paraprofessionals trained to promote positive school climates.
Policymakers should mandate that all school districts and police departments have public Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). These should detail expectations for how all police—not just SROs—should interface with children and families, and policymakers should enforce districts publishing these MOUs publically on their website.
There should be more vigorous enforcement of laws that are in place to protect student rights as it relates to their interactions with law enforcement, and schools should be mandated to document and inform students and parents of these rights.
Policymakers should mandate that police interacting with students may only do so after at least 40 hours of youth-specific training as well as training to help reduce racial biases. Policymakers should also mandate that schools and police departments ensure that students can understand interactions with the police through deploying officers who can speak fluently in a student’s native language or an interpreter to accompany officers.
Policymakers should prohibit school authorities from calling the police when a child is under the age of 12.
The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) should at minimum begin publishing data for each school regarding referrals to law enforcement and in-school arrests. The CSDE should also collect data regarding law enforcement and non-law enforcement activities of the police in schools, complaints against officers, instances of averted violence and safety threats, and data on non-SRO police interactions with students.
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About Connecticut Voices for Children Connecticut Voices for Children is a “think and do” tank working to ensure that Connecticut is a thriving and equitable state, and where all children achieve their full potential. In furtherance of its vision, Connecticut Voices for Children produces high-quality research and analysis, supports community movement-building efforts, advocates for people-centered policy changes, and works to develop the next generation of leaders.