Giving Compass' Take:
- Neal Morton explains what is needed to prevent police intervention in school discipline that often harms students of color.
- What school discipline policies in your area need to be overhauled? What partnerships can you engage in to drive this work?
- Learn how students with special needs are impacted by school safety measures.
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Shyra Adams vividly remembers the days after the death of Tony Robinson, an unarmed Black teenager killed in 2015 by police in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.
Angry and distraught over the injustice, Adams, then a high school sophomore, staged a walkout with hundreds of other students, who filled the state Capitol to protest Robinson’s death. She joined weekly protests and helped organize sit-ins at her school. Then, she cried quietly in class as she watched the Dane County district attorney announce on TV that no charges would be filed against the officer who shot and killed Robinson.
“It felt kind of hopeless at that point,” Adams, now 21, said.
But this summer, after five years of testifying at nearly every Madison school board meeting about the importance of removing police from schools, Adams found herself crying for a different reason. This time, she said, the tears came from her renewed hope that fighting for young people of color could lead to change. In June, she and other members of the Freedom Youth Squad, a group of Black and Southeast Asian activists, gathered to watch the Madison school board’s unanimous vote to cancel its contract with municipal police and remove all officers stationed at its high schools.
“A lot of people in different states were winning, but I thought, ‘In Madison? No way. They’ve been ignoring us for years,’ ” Adams said. “But that’s changing now. We finally got the votes.”
Across the U.S., the death of George Floyd in police custody in May rekindled long-simmering debates over the role of school resource officers, as on-campus police are often called. Subsequent protests convinced dozens of school boards across the country to formally sever ties with local law enforcement, defund their internal police departments, or remove or reduce the presence of officers in schools. Big cities like Denver and Minneapolis, where Floyd died, have cut ties with police, as have school boards in smaller cities like Spokane, Washington; Ypsilanti, Michigan; and Salem, Massachusetts.
But even as activists like Adams celebrate these recent wins, many also now wonder: Once police physically leave a school, what’s to stop teachers and principals from calling 911 to get them back?
Recent research has tied the presence of police in schools to an uptick in student discipline, especially for children of color, and a decrease in graduation and college enrollment rates. And over the past few decades, educators have relied more and more on police to handle routine student discipline, with schools referring hundreds of thousands of students to law enforcement each year. But depending instead on officers outside the school system — who often have minimal training in how to work with children — may not end the overly harsh school discipline that activists have targeted.
Read the full article about protecting students of color by Neal Morton at The Hechinger Report.