Increasingly, school discipline doesn’t mean detention — it means jail time. That has a measurable impact on children, and particularly on disabled children and children of color.

Depending on the state, students with disabilities were between three and 10 times more likely to be arrested at school, and black students were between three and eight times more likely to be arrested than their peers. Black girls made up 40 percent of the total arrests of girls at school despite only being 13 percent of the total population of girls.

290,000 students were reported arrested in 2015-2016, despite large school districts often failing to report arrests altogether. And the racial bias in those arrests is one of many reasons policing has changed how black parents raise their children.

As Grit Post previously reported, 14 million students attend schools alongside police officers, but not mental health professionals. And those who do have mental health professionals often have far fewer than the recommended standard on one for every 250 students.

Of the million cases that are considered serious offenses students commit, only three percent involve a weapon. And “weapon” is defined loosely — it could be a gun, but it could also be a baby carrot, or a stapler.

“if a student has a temper tantrum or bad day, and the school has a police officer instead of a counselor, then, you know, it’s like having a hammer instead of a screwdriver to respond to a screw,” said Amir Whitaker, Staff Attorney for ACLU of Southern California. “I’ve represented students that have had bad days or temper tantrums where they’ve maybe thrown a stapler and have been charged with assault and battery.”

Data shows that mental health professionals are effective in promoting a safe school environment and school cops really aren’t. In fact, quite the opposite.

Since our initial reporting, for instance, a video from Louisiana went viral, depicting two police officers attacking a student. The student allegedly got into an argument with an administrator. The officers slammed the student into the ground. They were indicted for battery and malfeasance.

Loretta Whitson, who worked on the ACLU report last fall, recounted her experience with the choice between cops and counselors that began in the shadows of the Columbine shooting. She was part of a panel as to how to best protect students in Sacramento, California. Her answer was school counseling starting at kindergarten.

The bill California passed allowed districts to choose — counselors or cops.

“Some districts chose counselors, and some chose police officers — that was the beginning of that, at least in California,” Whitson said.

As her career in education continued, Whitson signed off on the expulsion of a girl who hit a school security officer as the officer broke up a fight. She was sure that student would still have been in school if a counselor could intervene before the first punch was thrown.

Despite this, America appears to be doubling down. Instead of just adding police to schools, a movement has grown to arm teachers with deadly force as well. Now the choice isn’t cops or counselors, but arts or arms.

“When you put an army in a place, you’re going to get a war,” said Whitaker.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.


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