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Researcher Concludes SROs NOT the Way to Go

March 6, 2020

F. Chris Curran, an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy, recently researched the implications of having School Resource Officers (SROs) in schools and came to the conclusion that their presence does little to help children… or teachers and administrators. After describing the arrest of two six-year olds as an example, Mr. Curran writes:

While the arrests of the two elementary students in Orlando are not everyday occurrences, they do reflect a body of research that suggests cops in schools – they are formally known as school resource officers, or SROs – can take what would otherwise be a routine school disciplinary situation and escalate it to a whole different level…

School resource officers, who are sworn officers with full arrest powers, are increasingly common in primary schools. Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of primary schools with school resource officers increased 64%. Now, nearly one in three elementary schools has one of these officers at least part-time…

The presence of police in schools has been shown to increase the likelihood that students are arrested for school misconduct. For example, prior research has found that police agencies that get funding for school police increase arrests of youth under age 15 by as much as 21%.

This may be because the presence of police can shift the mindset of schools to one that is more about punishment than it is about teaching students why their behavior is wrong and what they can do to make amends.

This change in mindset is analogous to Mark Twain’s shopworn but applicable aphorism: if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If the mentality of the police department is setting the tone for school discipline, the emphasis will be on punishment and not on changing the behavior of the student who acted out. Mr. Curran concludes his article with the recommendation that policy makers heed the advice of teachers, 94% of whom preferred that school districts hire “…additional mental health professionals, teaching assistants and social workers” to address student misbehavior. He also recommends that if schools want to retain SROs they should be “…given training that emphasizes the developmental stages of students and how to respond to student misconduct” noting that:

Nationally, 93% of school resource officers report training for active shooters. However, only about one third report training in child trauma or the teenage brain.

It’s time for our public schools to re-examine their priorities when it comes to school safety, for as it stands now the emphasis on hardening schools and introducing a punitive police mentality into the lives of young students is preparing them for a world where law enforcement is the only way to exert control.



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