Home > Uncategorized > Skewed Priorities: 14,000,000 Students Attend a School With a Police Officer But No School Counselor, Nurse, Psychologist, Social Worker

Skewed Priorities: 14,000,000 Students Attend a School With a Police Officer But No School Counselor, Nurse, Psychologist, Social Worker

April 3, 2019

A Common Dreams article at the end of last month had the subheading that is repeated above. The headline of the article by Angela Mann read:

Why School Psychologists Are Worried About the Mental Health of America’s Students

The article was an outgrowth of a recent study conducted by the ACLU– “Cops and No Counselors,”, written by Ms. Mann and six other experts in the field. Drawing on data from the US Department of Education, the report described the appalling consequences of the nation’s collective decision to “harden” schools instead of supporting students who are experiencing social and emotional problems. She writes:

We found that the majority of K-12 schools are ill-equipped to address the mental health needs of children who are experiencing record levels of anxiety and depression during their formative years.

Children today are reporting just as much stress as adults, with 1 in 3 reporting that they are feeling depressed. Suicide, once on the decline as a risk for young people, is now one of the leading causes of death among youth, second only to accidents. Many of the kids I personally work with have one thing in common: significant trauma histories.

Knowing that suicide is on the increase and those children who are troubled have “significant trauma histories”, how does it help to spend scarce funds on surveillance cameras, entryway upgrades, and “good guys with guns”? How does it help to pass laws that enable teachers to carry weapons in schools? Here’s how Ms. Mann posed those questions, noting that there is no evidence whatsoever that police in schools do anything to improve school safety:

Rather than helping students suffering from stress and depression by investing in adequate support, precious resources have been diverted toward “hardening” schools, including hiring law enforcement personnel who may not be properly trained to work in schools. This approach has been pushed by the Trump administration and many state governments after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, but there is no reliable evidence that embedding police in schools makes children any safer.Yet 14 million students attend a school with a police officer but no school counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker, as the ACLU report found. This is the epitome of misplaced priorities and the foundation of a crisis.

Ms. Mann notes that improving school safety remains a priority… but the way schools are addressing this priority is maddeningly misbegotten:

…Only three months into 2019, state legislatures nationwide have proposed nearly 250 bills to enhance school security, and the pattern is disconcerting: emergency preparedness and funding for on-campus police officers (without requirements for appropriate training to work in schools) top many lists. While schools need improved threat assessments and crisis response, they also need more funding for mental health services. What we don’t need are more hardening measures like metal detectors, minimally trained law enforcement, and armed teachers. We know that metal detectors can’t detect abuse.

School resource officers, with the right training, can be helpful in addressing depression or suicidal thoughts. But ultimately, identifying and treating these issues is the fundamental job of school psychologists and other mental health staff. It’s up to all of us to make sure that every child has their needs met and goes out into the world with a fighting chance.  

Political capital, like every resource, is limited. Spending it to harden schools is a terrible thing to waste.

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