Letter to the editor

Think before adding police to schools

January 8, 2013 

Re Jan. 4 article, “Horry school board to cautiously reassess school safety needs”

The caution expressed by some Horry County school board members about proposals to increase police presence in schools is justified. Putting police in schools can have unintended and negative consequences. School-based police most often deal not with dangerous acts but with relatively minor misbehaviors that could safely be handled by educators. They often lack training in working with young people. The use of police in schools has a particularly damaging impact on young people of color, who are disproportionately referred to law enforcement, increasing the odds that they may drop out and experience future criminal justice involvement.

Keeping students safe depends on creating positive school climates by forging positive (not adversarial) relationships between students and authority figures and by directing resources to counseling and positive behavior support interventions – not criminalizing minor misbehavior and turning our schools into fortresses.

Instead of hastening to put police officers in schools without requiring specialized training, without defining their role in school discipline, and without formalizing agreements about the scope of their authority, we should think through school safety in a comprehensive way. If we really want to protect our children, we owe it to them.

The writer is executive director of the ACLU of SC, based in Charleston.

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