Students like me can target school boards to get the police out of schools
Schools have never been safe from police threat. But recent narratives created by politicians and police departments falsify school violence as astronomically high and inaccurately suggest that more police on campus is the only cure, even as campaigns have been pushed over the course of the past two years to remove the police from schools. The accounts cite anecdotal reports of violence in schools after students returned to physical classrooms after quarantine, but fail to contextualize the violence or its causes and rarely mention that levels of crime in schools are well below levels of the 1990s and 2000s. Instead of assuming more police are needed, policymakers should consult with students and educators — especially those of us in police-heavy schools — about solutions.
I saw my friend hit a police car in middle school. In high school, I saw students being sprayed with pepper spray by police in common areas between classes. When I was a freshman, there were one or two policemen on campus; today, four or five officers with security dogs are patrolling us. Their presence creates an intense atmosphere in which students wonder what prompted the school to hire them.
Arrested Learning, a national survey released in April 2021, asked students what made them feel safe when physically attending school. Eighty-four percent referred to their friends; 63% responded to teachers; 16 percent told the police. In addition, a third of respondents believed that the police targeted them because of their identity.
Students need investments in programs and resources that help us focus while learning, not more police. The real question: How can students voice their concerns and pressure school districts to make these changes? Local organizing around school board elections has proven the answer.
Currently, school boards play a key role in deciding whether schools have a police presence. We have seen police associations fund candidates for pro-police school boards in Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York. In El Paso, Texas, the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association and the Sheriff’s Officers Association helped elect a former police officer.
School boards are among the best ways to challenge police presence on campuses. Yet a 2020 report by the National School Boards Association found a “disheartening” school board election turnout (between 5 and 10 percent). That year, in my home district (the fifth largest school in the United States – Clark County, Nevada), only 33% of the electorate participated in school board elections; the winning margin was only 4,500 votes.
Students can influence police presence in their schools by organizing effectively through school councils. The Center for Popular Democracy Action’s new toolkit analyzes how school boards affect students’ lives and how to use them to fight injustices like school policing.
School boards wield immense power. Far-right conservatives and policing interests understand this, but they are not alone. Community activists have challenged racist and classist policies through public school boards for decades. Recently, examples of effective organizing have occurred in places like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the actions of Leaders Igniting Transformation led the Milwaukee School Principals’ Council to unanimously pass a resolution terminating their contract. with the Milwaukee Police Department.
As a Make the Road Nevada scholar, my classmates and I lobbied our school board to create a student section at meetings to ensure a dedicated platform to raise our voices. We are working to remove the police from our schools, add more counselors and support candidates who support our priorities. It’s not easy, but we’ve had some wins, including helping elect our sponsored candidate to the school board this summer, and we’re continuing to build a strong foundation to win more.
Nationally, students have spent the past two years coping with a pandemic that has compounded existing issues in our privacy. We need more social workers, counselors and teachers who care about us in order to get through such a turbulent time. My high school had a social worker before Las Vegas started its COVID lockdown. After lockdown I didn’t see them and it looks like extra police have taken their place. It was a compromise that only benefited the police.
Make the Road Nevada Action also helped create “Youth Mandate for Education and Liberation: A Mandate to Guide Us from Crisis to Liberation,” which details how police and school safety fail to empower students to feel safe and often lead to harmful interactions. . It also shows that students overwhelmingly prefer school districts to focus on providing more resources and support for students rather than police and security. In the youth mandate, youth groups within the Center for Popular Democracy Network demanded that schools divest from policing to fund services and education programs that prioritize restorative practices over discipline strict.
Here is the fundamental problem with the police: they cannot prevent violence but can only respond to it, often with more violence. Our schools should foster creativity, healing and joy – and strive to prevent harm. This is impossible with sweeping disciplinary measures and the militarization of police on campus. We need student-focused resources that position us for success. To obtain these resources, students, parents and all those who care about our well-being must organize themselves around school boards.