Policing Schools Won’t Make Them Safe

Although young people (like the protestor pictured above), have been active in the fight for Black Lives Matter, many face issues with policing at their own schools. Jesse Fraga/PantherNOW

Anjuli Castano/Contributing Writer

In the wake of a black liberation movement and a unanimous struggle against oppression, there has been a national cry to “defund the police.” Many have gone to the extent of calling themselves abolitionists, working towards the eradication of prisons and police departments. The abolition of police enforcement extends to the school system. 

These are not arbitrary or thoughtless demands. Communities are realizing their agency through civic engagement and are demanding for more investment in mental health resources, divesting from the school-to-prison pipeline. 

There are many misconceptions about the presence of law enforcement in public schools. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, the Florida legislature passed a bill that mandated that schools have at least one officer on duty, but research has demonstrated that there is no correlation between more police presence and a decline in violence at schools. What has been demonstrated, is the disproportionate rate at which children of color and children with disabilities are afflicted by punitive actions. 

The 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection: School Climate and Safety (the most recent census on this topic, published in 2018), shows that black students made up 31% of students referred to law enforcement or subjected to school-related arrests, while only making up 15% of the population. Disabled children made up 28% of students referred to law enforcement and where only 12% of the population. 

Clearly, there is a discordance in the narrative that cops are there to keep all students safe. Instead of creating an environment of trust and safety, they perpetuate the school to prison pipeline. This is in reference to the psychological harm a child experiences when faced with legal action for behavioral issues, leaving a precedence of violence as a reasonable response, and normalizing the criminal justice system for them. 

This normalization is what leads the youth to lives of crime. The children who fall into this cycle are usually targeted students of color. Public officials in school districts, police departments and judicial circuits provide the guidelines for when students can be arrested and what alternatives are provided to them. The district in which a child lives determines the level of protection they receive from over policing; it is what defines their schooling experience. Removing police from schools would change this discriminatory policy. 

“[SROs] don’t see us going beyond the circumstances they’ve created for us.”

Anaum Virani, Florida Student Power Network organizer

“[SROs] don’t see us going beyond the circumstances they’ve created for us,” says Anaum Virani, a 17 year-old organizer for the Florida Student Power Network student who attends East Ridge High School in Lake County.

Schools with larger populations of black and brown students are more likely to have a police presence, not because they are more violent, but because of societal norms that police them. Police are expected to de-escalate violence, but, as Anaum asserted, “slamming a student on the ground is not the best way to show them violence isn’t good.” 

I have also witnessed a consensus among students in the need to reallocate funds from policing to resources that support basic necessities and human rights. 

Jasiah Villalta, 17, is also a student organizer for the Florida Student Power Network, who previously attended an undisclosed school in Miami-Dade but now goes to East Ridge High School in Clermont. “I live in a low-income area and they always put more officers as if it’s going to help,” he states.

According to Jasiah, an ideal school environment is unachievable “until we address what students face outside of school.” Black and brown students face outside pressures such as systemic racism, which their white peers do not. These realities are not addressed or respected, and in fact are triggered by police presence. 

If the MDCPS’ budget reflected the demands of its students, there would be an emphasis on emotional support. Student-led organizations fighting for education justice plea with school boards at budget meetings for a reallocation of funds to better support the under-staffed and under-funded teachers and counselors. The $51 million they spend annually on policing demonstrates where their priorities lie. 

Kevin Herrera, a 16 year-old student at Miami Northwestern Senior High who works with PowerU on their Counselors Not Cops committee, has seen firsthand the apathy the school board has towards taxpayers’ concerns. “[MDCPS Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho] stated we have more than a thousand student counselors but we don’t see it,” he says. 

There isn’t enough attention being paid to community development and it shows in the “moral document” PowerU refers to the budget as. In Kevin’s school there are four councelors for thousands of students. According to Kevin, “it’s not sufficient.”

MDCPS is the fourth-largest school district in the country. If we can prioritize healthcare and set a precedence of budget transparency and accountability, we can have a national impact. The transition towards highlighting these values can only be done by defunding police presence. For those who are fighting for police free schools, this is not political; it is for the safety and care of their loved ones. The efforts are national, as seen in cities like Minneapolis, Portland and Chicago. 

As of now, the school board has yet to respect civic engagement, but it is the student organizers who will make themselves heard.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Have questions or comments for our writers? Send an email to opinion@fiusm.com with your name and the name of the column in the subject line.

Be the first to comment on "Policing Schools Won’t Make Them Safe"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.