Denver Post February 20, 2013
By: Ricardo Martinez
Following the tragic incidents in Newtown, Conn., communities across the country are contemplating placing armed guards in schools. While the safety of children is our highest priority, haphazardly placing police in schools is not in the best interest of either the children or our communities.
In 2008, Padres y Jóvenes Unidos was involved in creating the most progressive student discipline code in the country, calling for an end to racial disparities in discipline and limiting the role of police in Denver Public Schools. Since then, out-of-school suspensions are down 25.7 percent; expulsions are down 48.8 percent; and Denver County Juvenile Court filings from DPS are down 43.3 percent.
We know firsthand that armed guards in schools do not necessarily catch early indicators of mental health needs, identify underlying causes of violence, or use the resources of law enforcement in an effective way. In Denver, we saw school resource officers being used to write tickets for minor student misbehavior that could have been handled through restorative justice or a trip to the principal's office.
School resource officers and armed guards rarely encounter real crime in schools. National data shows schools are still the safest place for children. Absent any real law enforcement role, police tend to become the enforcers of the harsh "zero tolerance" policies which were implemented by school districts following the Columbine tragedy.
Placing armed personnel in schools actually undermines a positive learning environment, is costly, and can have unintended consequences for large numbers of students. These consequences can be severe for young people, with police records following them when they apply for college, the military or a job. African-American and Latino children are disproportionately impacted by these policies.
To reduce violence and create safe, quality schools, we should promote strategies that foster care, connectedness and support. That's why Padres y Jovenes Unidos, with support from the Advancement Project, helped craft a historic agreement between the Denver Police Department and Denver Public Schools. The Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) clarifies the limited role of police in schools; provides due process protections for students and parents; requires community input on the policing process; and mandates training prior to police being assigned to schools. Unlike some memorandums of understandings that a handful of school districts and police departments have signed, this agreement includes direct input from students and is a binding contract between all parties.
Best of all, the IGA will help ensure that if police must be in schools, their role will be limited to dealing with criminal threats to school safety. For non-criminal disciplinary issues, students will be directed to school administrators and appropriate services. This reduces the likelihood that children will be ticketed or arrested for minor infractions.
Data shows that when we get police out of the business of arresting students for trivial, non-violent offenses, we'll in turn help increase the retention and graduation rate of students. Students arrested in school are significantly more likely to be held back or drop out altogether.
School districts across the nation would be wise to use the Denver pact as a model. It is the perfect approach as we strive to protect our kids and place them on a pathway to college and careers, not prison.
Ricardo Martinez is co-director of Padres y Jovenes Unidos.
Denver Post February 20, 2013