Last week’s heartbreaking tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, has reignited the debate about how to stop school shootings.
While common sense gun policy is sorely needed, the debate is unfortunately diverting attention from what violence actually looks like in most public schools on a daily basis—and from the schools that are making real progress on stopping this violence.
It’s clear that conservative arguments to “harden” schools with more funding for security, police officers, and arming teachers are absurd and shouldn’t even be entertained.
Research shows that, despite school police reducing some forms of violence—like fights—they don’t prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents. What they do is increase the number of student suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests, particularly for Black students—known as the “school-to-prison” pipeline.
And school police are costly. As of 2015, the school policing industry (for products like metal detectors and facial recognition cameras) was a $2.7 billion market. That’s a lot of public money not going into classrooms.
Indiana, for example, has awarded more than $110 million to its school districts for security. One district just announced it would be using its $100,000 grant to offset the cost of their in-district police department. Meanwhile, the state currently ranks 33rd in the nation in per-pupil education spending and 37th in teacher pay.
Instead, public school leaders across the country should be following the lead of a movement of schools using a public education model slowly but steadily gaining national popularity. That model is known as the “community school” approach.
Community schools attend to the basic needs of the communities inside and around the school in hopes of helping students show up to the classroom ready to learn. For example, a Florida elementary school organized an effort to have the local government install new streetlights near campus after learning from parents that many students felt unsafe walking to school in the dark. Attendance immediately increased—which, along with other factors, helped improve test scores.
When it comes to addressing violence, a number of community schools are working with students and families to co-develop less violent, effective, and racially-just relationships.
As community leaders Tere Flores and Carl Pinkston describe in a recent opinion piece for EdSource, “Through shared power and decision-making, students, families, community, and educators can co-create relationship-centered schools and lay the foundation for an education system built by and for us all.”
They highlight Sacramento’s Luther Burbank High School, which employs people from the community to work as school monitors rather than hiring police. “When there are conflicts, the school brings in the entire family to better understand what’s happening in the student’s life,” write Flores and Pinkston. “If services are needed, the school reaches out to its network to provide tailored support.”
Community schools in Oakland use restorative practices, which—along with other community-led cultural shifts—has led to better graduation rates, decreases in disciplinary actions and in-class disruptions, and less absences. (Though, the district is closing some of its community schools despite community and parent pushback, as recently explained by journalist Jeff Bryant.)
Los Angeles’s Mendez High School helped lead a campaign to end random searches using metal detectors—which are not effective at deterring weapons possession—in all of the city’s public schools. Students reported feeling alienated, disrespected, and disempowered by the practice.
The question isn’t whether schools are “hard” enough. Nearly half across the country already have police on campus. Being “hard” isn’t working—and it’s pushing more and more students of color into the criminal justice system.
The question is whether schools are responsive and accountable to parents and the surrounding community when it comes to students feeling safe at school. And the community school approach is an exciting and effective way to make that happen.
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