More police in schools. Armed teachers. Deputized teachers. Metal detectors. Security cameras. Gates. Fences.
Let’s all take a breath, shall we?
School remains one of the safest places for children in America, yet the response to mass shootings of students is, quite simply, hysterical.
Just how irrational our response is to this phenomenon is illustrated by the fact that Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., had a school resource officer. So did Columbine. Yet police officials, aided and abetted by politicians, claim that at least part of the answer to school security is more cops in them.
It is a provable fact that placing full-time police in schools results in more and more black and brown kids ejected from school and charged with crimes — kicked out of school, onto the street and into prisons. We even have a name for this: the school-to-prison pipeline.
I was in attendance at the governor’s school-safety summit earlier this month, and there was no discussion whatsoever of this ineluctable result of the potential for harm to minority kids posed by this proposed solution. (Apparently the specter of a police officer throwing a teen-age girl across a Spring Valley High School classroom in 2015 is so distant as to not be a memory at all.)
Schools should be a safe harbor for children, created not by security hardware and a police presence, but through positive interaction between kids and their school caretakers.
Many of the other increased security measures in my first paragraph also were offered up at the summit. Yet there are any number of studies suggesting that these measures, coupled with harsh zero-tolerance policies and surveillance technology, actually make children feel less safe in schools.
Robert Ariail’s Feb. 25 cartoon with the imposing depiction of a metal detector, video camera and armed officer captures perfectly well just how perfectly wrong-headed this approach is. While the cartoon equates these measures to zero school shootings (a dubious assertion), what child would actually want to attend that school?
There are plenty of effective ways to prevent crime and violence in schools that do not require fortifying them. These rely on promoting schools as communities where children and young people believe they can trust teachers and administrators in communicating with them; paying enough attention to individual students to identify troubled youngsters; and intervening in trouble students’ lives with effective programming.
We risk creating an atmosphere that convinces generations of young citizens that the only way to remain safe in our society is to succumb to a police state.
Akil Ross, the principal of Chapin High School, said it best at the governor’s summit: Schools should be a safe harbor for children, created not by security hardware and a police presence, but through positive interaction between kids and their school caretakers.
There is another, more corrosive influence of the fortification of public schools in this state and in this country. When we combine draconian disciplinary policies, security hardware and surveillance and an overweening reliance on police as an all-encompassing antidote to school crime, we create an atmosphere that convinces generations of young citizens that the only way to remain safe in our society is to succumb to a police state.
That is antithetical to our democracy and a lesson we should not teach our children.
Mr. Elliott is a Columbia attorney who started his career in law enforcement; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.