Obama Administration Asks Schools to Re-Think Role of SROs

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

The Obama administration is calling on schools to rethink the disciplinary techniques they employ when responding to misbehavior following a systemic increase in disciplinary action being undertaken by school policing services.

The focus is being shifted from policing in schools to initiatives that generate collaborative partnerships between students, schools and safety and security professionals.

The new rubric, called the Safe School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding and Respect, provides recommendations on how police agencies and schools can develop a more formalized partnership prior to placing police officers within school grounds.

Training for police officers, also known as school resource officers (SROs), on childhood development is also a recommendation made by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice within the new rubric, which will also provide clear guidelines on the role of SROs.

To receive federal funding, SROs must adhere to these new requirements.

The role of SROs is being reconsidered following a number of complaints made by civil rights groups questioning the suitability of police officers within the school environment, with significant regard to the adult-like disciplinary actions that juveniles are subject to.

COPS director Ronald L. Davis in a statement on the change said:

“[W]e have seen that there is the potential for SROs to have a negative impact on students through unnecessary arrests and improper involvement in routine school discipline matters. If SROs are not properly hired, trained, evaluated and integrated into the school community—or if they are given responsibilities more appropriately carried out by educators—negative outcomes, including violations of students’ civil rights, can and have occurred. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us, including law enforcement and education leaders, to do everything we can to directly address these concerns and reduce the potential for problems.”

Under the previous model, the federal government provided funding for SROs under the umbrella of Community Orientated Policing Services (COPS).

The funding for these positions is provided by the Department of Justice at a federal level, with state and local governments also providing similar funding for around 20,000 SROs, reports Kenrya Rankin from Color Line, the daily news site of the national racial justice organisation Race Forward.

This method of disciplinary focus has led to a dramatic increase to the number of police officers stationed within K-12 schools across the nation in the name of student safety, writes Rebecca Klein from The Huffington Post.

Another disciplinary alternative to zero-tolerance policies like policing or suspensions is the restorative justice method, which is preferred by educators and can be equally exhausting as it is effective.

This method is focused on building community values within the school environment and develops student/teacher relationships that are built on mutual respect and results in lowered suspension rates, higher graduation rates, and improved school atmosphere, reports Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine.

Research on the effects of suspensions finds that this method of discipline does not lead to an improvement in behavior, but instead results in student alienation from the school community and is disproportionately applied to students of color, reports Dominus.

In the same article, Dominus also writes that many suspended students often end up in the criminal justice system.