PITTSBURGH – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a new report, Student Arrests in Allegheny County Schools: The Need for Transparency and Accountability. The report finds that some school districts regularly underreport data on student arrests to the public.
Comparing school and justice system data, the report finds that many more students are arrested or referred to police than schools admit. This underreporting is especially true for students with disabilities and Black students, who are significantly more likely than other students to be arrested at school.
“The data shortcomings raise serious concerns about whether these students are receiving the protections from discrimination guaranteed by law,” said Harold Jordan, a co-author of the report and the nationwide education equity coordinator for the ACLU. “School officials make decisions about how and when to use law enforcement. Too often, they involve police in everyday school matters, when they are not required to do so. We need a full accounting of student-police interactions in Allegheny County.”
The report also finds that Allegheny County is one of the hot spots for student arrests in Pennsylvania, a state which had the second-highest rate of student referrals to law enforcement in the country during the 2017-18 school year, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.
“When students are arrested for minor, often typical adolescent behavior, it negatively impacts their ability to succeed in school,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Students are being unnecessarily pushed into the justice system rather than having their needs addressed by supportive adults who are trained to work with adolescents, which is a far better investment of public resources.”
“FISA Foundation was proud to support the development of this report because we believe it’s imperative that school administrators, school boards, parents and advocates examine their own data and use it to inform policy and practice,” said Kristy Trautmann, executive director of FISA Foundation. “The trends are clear and deserve urgent attention: schools are referring students of color and students with disabilities to the police at alarmingly high rates, often for minor offenses or for behaviors that are manifestations of disability. This report makes it clear that data on police referrals is flawed, inconsistent and incomplete. You can’t address a problem that isn’t being measured accurately.”
The report offers a comprehensive set of recommendations to local and state officials, which, if implemented, would ensure better access to student arrest data; eliminate the everyday presence of police in schools; limit student-police interactions to emergencies and dangerous incidents; and reinvest money used for school police into student support programs and staff.
You can find a copy of the report at aclupa.org/student_arrests