Last Updated on October 16, 2016 by Andre Loftis

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Last week the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released new recommendations for the hiring of school resource officers—the most recent push by the Obama administration to protect students’ civil rights and limit harsh school discipline by assuring the role of on-site police is both limited and clearly defined.

The administration has worked judiciously to advocate for change aimed at reining in the aggressive use of zero-tolerance policies in school districts around the nation. Such policies are proven to have a detrimental impact on minority students—particularly Blacks.

In 2013-14, at least 30 percent of the nation’s schools had at least one resource officer and approximately 11 percent of schools had at least one sworn law-enforcement officer on campus not designated as a school resource officer. Also in 2013-14, Black students nationally were twice as likely to be referred to law enforcement and/or arrested at school than their white peers.

Zero tolerance policies began with the passage of the nation’s Gun-Free School Act of 1994.  Passage of the act resulted in states implementing laws that required schools to expel a student found on school property with a gun in his/her possession. Many states, however, used the federal law as cover and passed laws that required expulsion or suspension for all weapons or objects that could conceivably be used as weapons. School districts then took the policy a step further and as described by Education World, and implemented zero tolerance policies that encouraged equal punishment for any student who knowingly or unknowingly possessed, “weapons, possible weapons, potential weapons, virtual weapons, imaginary weapons, and perceived weapons as well as for threats, possible threats, potential threats, virtual threats, perceived threats, and threatening attitudes or demeanor.”

Criticism against zero tolerance policies from groups like the American Bar Association were based on the reality that such policies target minority students, particularly Black and Brown children. In 2012, the association asked the U.S. Judiciary Committee’s Civil Rights sub-committee to end the policy.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”65918″ img_size=”600×557″][vc_column_text]There is little doubt the policy has resulted in a damaging and continuous flow of black students into the school to prison pipeline.

In August 2014, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a policy letter that stated not only did the “widespread overuse of suspensions and expulsions,” have tremendous costs; but also emphasized, “Students who are suspended or expelled from school may be unsupervised during daytime hours and cannot benefit from great teaching, positive peer interactions and adult mentorship offered in class and in school.”

Like elsewhere in the nation, student suspensions and expulsions had exploded under California’s zero tolerance policies. In recent years however, school districts around the state began to recognize and acknowledge that this approach to discipline was not optimal and that there are better and more effective ways to respond to student behavior. This acknowledgement expanded as more and more studies showed a direct correlation between high suspension rates, repeat offenses and higher dropout rates and elevated the detrimental impact out of school suspensions were having on students forced through the school to prison pipeline.

Late last year, a study published by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project showed that school suspension rates in California fell for students of every ethnicity in the last three years as a result of a shift in school discipline policies. Most interesting, the study also proved a correlation between lower rates of suspension and higher academic achievement for every racial group in the state—the correlation was strongest for African-American students.

The Department of Education recommendations released last week are to be used to develop agreements between schools and local law-enforcement agencies that include monitoring the actions of school-based police officers in addition to training school police in such areas as child development and conflict de-escalation. These recommendations will now be required for any agency that uses Justice Department grants to hire school resource officers.

Federal officials are hopeful the new requirements will serve as a model for consideration and implementation by all schools with on-campus law enforcement, whether they use federal grants to hire them or not.

Other actions recommended by the Department of Education and Justice included seeking community input when drafting agreements with law-enforcement agencies that detail officers’ roles in schools and limit their involvement in disciplinary issues; incorporating local, state, and federal civil rights laws into those agreements and establish processes for monitoring compliance and receiving complaints about potential violations; establishing policies for hiring and training school resource officers on issues like appropriate use of restraints, child development, and the effects of youth involvement with the justice system; training teachers and staff to avoid calling on school officers to assist with nonviolent disciplinary issues; and establishing a process for evaluating school resource officers.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.