Monday, December 31, 2012

Why Police Don't Belong in the Schools Except in the Most Extreme Cases

ICE took an early stand from its first days in late 2003-4 on police in the schools during the UFT elections that year. Here Loretta Prisco, a founding member, in addition to being part of the groups I belonged to in the 70s -- Another View in District 14 and Coalition of NYC School Workers --- make a point, followed by the ICE official position in the 2004 election. I hear voices saying MORE should not take a stand so as not to alienate the pro-police teachers in the schools in the election. I absolutely disagree - no police unless in the most dire circumstances even with the Sandy Hook story still hot.

On a SURR visit to a Brooklyn HS that was labeled "impact", I witnessed an incident that made it clear to me that police don't belong in schools. Perhaps an isolated incident but it had quite an impact on me.

During change of classes, teachers, deans and other support staff asked kids to "move on", "get to class", "you are going to be late". And the kids moved, no push back, no arguments, just compliance. We know how to talk to kids and not back them in a corner. A cop got wise with a kid, I didn't hear the remark, only the facial expressions on the kids and his friends. He responded in like manner as we would expect any 17-18 year old to do. In a split second, the kid was taken to the ground, face down, hands behind his back, cuffed and led out of school. And there his record began as an adult in the justice system.

Yes, smaller class sizes, training for teachers (I have seen new fellows successfully calming kids going thru a melt down), guidance services beginning early in a child's career, etc. We know how to do it, but no one listens to the experts-the teachers.

Loretta Prisco
Here is the ICE statement, published in Ed Notes, March, 2004:
It’s no surprise that school security is making all the headlines. It’s a major concern for staff, students and parents, and at the same time Bloomberg and Weingarten use it to play politics. Our mayor and UFT president have presented themselves as saving the day through their plan to send teams of uniformed, armed police into the “most dangerous” schools in the city. While this plan may appeal to many teachers and students who feel vulnerable and helpless in the face of an escalating breakdown of discipline and constant threat of danger, it fails to address the years of neglect and poor policy toward troubled students that have led to our present circumstances. Since the quick-fix remedies by themselves can create additional problems, our school system must address both our immediate concerns and their fundamental causes.

Emphasis should be on preventing problems rather than reacting to a never-ending series of emergencies. Within our schools we must create and maintain calm, peaceful and mutually respectful classroom environments with clearly spelled-out consequences and alternatives for disruptive students. School discipline efforts should focus on those children with a history of problems, and schools must be given the resources they need to deal with the needs these children have. This includes supportive services and small classes, especially for children who cannot function in a regular classroom setting. Although these measures are costly they will pay off in the long run by giving children the academic and social skills they need to succeed in school.

Consequences to children for their inappropriate, disruptive, potentially harmful and dangerous behavior must be effective. If the consequences are too little, too late, destructive behavior will not be deterred. If the consequences are too severe, school staff will want to minimize the problems and not report incidents.

Law enforcement measures should be viewed as a sometimes necessary but last resort and only in response to actual criminal activity. If there is unwarranted, widespread criminalization of student behavior, this will not only mark student lives but will exacerbate an already faulty and underfunded approach which doesn’t address the roots of the problem.

Within a generally accepted citywide framework, school committees of teachers, supervisors, parents, and students should come to a consensus concerning the rules and procedures and in-school structures that are appropriate for each school. The citywide framework itself should be based on input from these school committees. The recommendations of these committees should reflect an honest assessment of practices that have worked and failed in each school. In addition, the Department of Education should undertake a thorough effort to research successful programs throughout the country.

The shuffling of children with low achievement levels and a history of poor behavior from school to school and their increased concentration in certain schools, the inadequate number of staff (guidance counselors and deans) to deal with problems, the intimidation of teachers through the use of the redefined corporal  punishment rule (which is often abused by principals against teachers  they don’t like), and the tearing down of the suspension structure, coupled with the total ineffectiveness of the in-house suspension program has exacerbated the problems of discipline and security in many schools.

The DOE and school administrations must be responsible for discipline and security in the schools. School suspensions, rather than in-house suspensions must be restored for all principal’s suspensions. But the key is to deal with the children at an early age before attitudes and  behavior have developed to the point where they are much more difficult to deal with. If funds are allocated for staff and programs that focus on preventing problems in the early grades, if needy and troubled children are given the appropriate services and placed in smaller classes and, if necessary, alternate educational settings as they progress through the system, we believe that there will be a marked change in the atmosphere and security of all our schools.

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