Many of America’s largest school districts are hiring more security officers than they are counselors. In four of the top ten largest public school districts in the country, including New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade County, and Houston, security officers outnumber school counselors.
A report released by the website The 74 reveals that the nation’s largest school districts are prioritizing security over counseling, despite research that demonstrates effective and comprehensive counseling can increase school’s security. In New York and Chicago, there are about half as many counselors as there are security officers.
“I’m not surprised, but it still concerns me deeply,” says Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s racial justice programs. “It reflects an approach to school discipline and school safety that is ultimately counterproductive.”
The ACLU has shown that public school security disproportionately disciplines students of color, which adds a racial dimension to this dilemma. Students subjected to harsh discipline are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. The majority of students in the largest ten school districts are students of color, who are disproportionally affected by the repercussions of stepped up security and underfunded counseling.
School security officers cover a wide range of personnel, from uniformed guards employed by the district to armed police officers who make arrests. The Houston and Los Angeles Unified School Districts have their own police force, whereas districts like Hawaii employ safety personnel.
Skeptics do not doubt the importance of security officers in maintaining a safe academic and social community for students. “Our goal is to provide a safe, respectful, and supportive environment for students to thrive academically and socially,” says a Department of Education spokesman. “We are working across city agencies, including NYPD and FDNY, to ensure the safety and security of students and staff.” Critics are questioning the wisdom of devaluing counseling, something that also contributes to the safety and vibrancy of a community.
Given limited resources, schools’ counseling programs have suffered immensely in the shadow of increased security. Not one of the top ten school districts satisfy the criteria laid out by the American School Counselor Association, which advocates for one counselor for every 250 students. In Houston, for example, there is one counselor for every 1,288 students. Hawaii comes closest to the Association’s standard, having 274 students for every counselor.
Counselor Cory Notestine, who works in Colorado Springs, was named school counselor of the year by the American School Counselor Association for 2015 – 2016. Upon surveying the report’s findings, Notestine said that he finds it “alarming that we would have more resource officers in some schools than we would have school counselors.”
School counselors provide a variety of services for students. They often focus on helping students stay on track academically, deal with social issues, and work through behavioral issues. They also play a key role in helping students get accepted into college.
The report comes at a moment when the debate over school safety, classroom violence, in-school shootings, and the school-to-prison pipeline dominates national headlines.