The ACLU recently reported a disturbing trend in American public schools. Teachers are more frequently turning to student resource officers when it comes to matters of classroom discipline. That’s true when there is a violent threat, but also true when a student is being disruptive or engaging in bullying behavior.
Unfortunately, the growing reliance on other authority figures to mete out punishment is having drastic and far-reaching consequences. Many of the kids who are subjected to interaction with a student resource officer soon see their grades begin to plummet, and they are far more likely to drop out of school.
Many school districts now employ a police officer to help provide discipline and security on campus. These student resource officers, or SROs, used to be rare. Only one percent of U.S. schools had an SRO in 1975, but in recent years that number has surged to a police presence that amounts to 24 percent in elementary schools. A full 42 percent of high schools also have at least one SRO on campus.
In California alone during the 2013-2014 school year, 20,000 students received some form of discipline from an SRO. Most of these cases involved minor disruptions and rule infractions, things that teachers might have handled themselves some years ago. Of those 20,000 cases, 9,500 resulted in an arrest. Instead of going through some kind of disciplinary program at the school, these kids ended up in the criminal justice system, doubling their chances of dropping out.
The study also showed that a disproportionate number of students who have police interactions in schools are minorities, have disabilities or come from low-income neighborhoods. This suggests that the use of SROs in the classroom may be unfairly focused on these communities.
Most schools give teachers complete latitude regarding when to request SRO assistance. The ACLU suggests that schools write comprehensive guidelines regarding the circumstances under which SROs should get involved. Moreover, it is recommended that funds be diverted from SROs to the recruitment of counselors and mental health professionals so schools can better deal with disciplinary issues and the causes that underlie them.