Harold Jordan is a senior policy advocate with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a nationally recognized expert on civil rights in education. Harold has advised school districts and state and federal policymakers on best practices in student discipline and police interactions with students. He recently sat down with ACLU-PA Director of Communications Andy Hoover to discuss the harm that police cause for students and how schools can minimize interactions between cops and kids for an episode of the podcast Speaking Freely With the ACLU-PA.
The entirety of this conversation is available at this link.
What harm is done by having police officers in schools?
There’s abundant harm. One is that what is considered normal adolescent behavior is often dealt with in a criminal justice setting, and that’s reflected in the high rates of arrests in some districts and in some states. Pennsylvania has had among the highest rates of student arrests in the country for at least a decade. We’ve been somewhere between first and sixth in the country. We’ve had relatively high rates, both in districts that have full time police officers and, to a lesser extent but a significant extent, in districts that just call the police all the time.
People don’t talk about the threat of the use of force often enough because that is an essential component of policing, that they can threaten to use force. That has a profound impact on young people and on the school environment.
And that harm is inflicted on particular students, right? It especially impacts students of color and students with disabilities.
I would add to that list students of limited economic means. You actually do see some white students from non-affluent families, especially from the rural areas, being mistreated by police, as well.
The numbers reflect the reality that, overall, it is African-American students, to some extent Latino students, and students with disabilities, overall, who are punished at rates twice that of students without disabilities.
When the mayor of Harrisburg was pitching the idea of city police being stationed at the schools a few years ago, he said that he wanted officers and students to build positive relationships. Why is that thinking flawed?
If that is what you think these school staff members are doing, then take away their power to arrest students. Take away their power to detain students. Take away their power to interrogate students. Take away their power to handcuff students. If you’re looking for a school staff member to build positive relations with young people, let’s fund those positions directly. It’s a misuse of scarce educational resources to make the claim that someone who could potentially take away a kid’s freedom is the best person to do that.
What are some of the goals you’re hoping to achieve in ACLU-PA’s work on this issue?
We want to eliminate some of the concrete harms. We want to reduce unnecessary arrests. We want to reduce system involvement and kids getting records for minor things. We want to reduce instances in which there are physical altercations between school security and students. We want to push for schools to adopt alternatives to justice system involvement for young people in school who are alleged to have committed certain infractions. And we also, where possible, want to shift funds that school districts put into policing programs into other educational services that are more appropriate for working with young people.
Learn more about police in schools and find resources for students and educators at EndZeroTolerance.org.