Police in Schools

Police in Schools


Some schools are choosing to arm teachers because of lack of funding for enough police presence, but the issue of police in schools is itself highly controversial. Many people question whether police belong in schools at all. When police enter school systems, many of the larger trends in policing often come with them. This has been the case with the concepts of ‘broken windows’ policing and ‘zero-tolerance’ policies, both explored below.

Often, security and discipline end up overlapping in the role police take on in schools, and research has shown – particularly in communities of color – that police presence in schools has frequently led to the criminalization of minor infractions that would normally be handled by school officials.

To explore more about the history of police presence in schools, and its many implications, follow the prompts below.

Part I: Schools and Police – An Overview

 For an overview of issues related to police in schools – including a brief history – explore the following two sources, which cover similar information in different ways:

Read the article written by Melinda Anderson – “When Schooling Meets Policing,” The Atlantic (Sept. 21, 2015).

Watch the following short video produced for The 74, which gives a brief history of SROs in schools and compares their presence to that of guidance counselors:

After reading the article and watching the video, consider the following discussion/study questions:

Several times in the article it is pointed out that the original intent of SRO (School Resource Officer) programs in schools was to build positive relationships between youth and police. Do you think this still happens in places? Under what circumstances might it be more likely to happen, and why?

To what historical trends and events does the writer contribute the upswing in police being placed in schools from the 1990’s on?

The article states that often SROs do not receive any special training to work in schools. Do you think officers should have special training? In what ways might it be different to be a police officer in a school than on the street? What kinds of skills do you imagine being necessary, and why?

The video argues that adding more Guidance Counselors to schools would have a positive effect on students and discipline. Do you agree?

TO SEE HOW MANY GUIDANCE COUNSELORS SCHOOLS IN EACH STATE HAVE, GO TO THE MPR News Site ARTICLE “Money for counseling takes a back seat,” by Tim Pugmire. SCROLL DOWN TO THE INTERACTIVE MAP “School counselor-to-student ratios nationwide, 2014.”

The article and the video describe “unnecessary arrests that increase the likelihood that a child will end up in the juvenile-justice system.” This phenomenon has come to be known as “the school-to-prison pipeline” – to explore this topic more deeply, please see the sources in the next section.

Part II: Deeper Dive -The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Watch the following two brief videos on what has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The following is a brief infographic produced by Al Jazeera+: “American Kids and the School-To-Prison Pipeline” (May 18, 2015).

This story was produced by NBC News: “How Schools Are Funneling Certain Students into the Prison System” (October 25).

After watching, discuss the questions below:
What might it mean for disrespect or disobedience to be subjective? How and why might students of color be more the target of this subjectivity than white students?

Kenneth D. Waters, the scholar interviewed, tells the story of one student who has to walk through terrible conditions on the way to school, through metal detectors in school, and who hasn’t eaten on over a day. Are these conditions a kind of violence in-and-of-themselves? What impact might this have on students?

The first video suggests hiring more guidance counselors and creating more equal educational opportunities. What would these take?

Toward the end of the second video, Kenneth Waters and the narrator are describing an approach to school discipline that has become known as “restorative justice.” What do restorative disciplinary practices look like?

To learn more about restorative justice, watch the following video produced by Brave New Films:

To learn about how restorative disciplinary practices are impacting schools, watch the following video produced by the Chicago Public Schools:

For guidelines on SRO best-practices, look at the following article from Teaching Tolerance:

To learn more about the impact of Guidance Counselors, read the following article from The Atlantic.

Part III: Deeper Dive -The History of Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools

For a deeper exploration of both “restorative” approaches to discipline, and to “zero-tolerance policies,” read the following article from the American Bar Association, “Schools Start to Rethink Zero Tolerance Policies,” by Stephanie Francis Ward.


Listen to the following story produced for NPR by Shankar Vedantam,  “How Broken Windows Helped Shape Tensions Between Police and Communities” (November 15, 2016).

To see graphic representations of some of the historical trends discussed in these pieces, look at the following pages:

ACLU Fact Sheet on the Juvenile Justice System

Criminal Justice Facts, from the Sentencing Project







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