LWVUS signed on an ACLU and disability rights group letter asking President Biden end federal funding of police in schools. This would occur via an executive order, partnership with Congress on a FY 2022 budget that includes no federal funding for school police and presidential support for the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, which LWV previously endorsed.
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Biden:
On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and the undersigned 151 organizations, we write to ask you to end the use of Department of Justice federal funding for police in schools. Instead, we urge you to issue an executive order directing the Department of Justice to shift its funding away from supporting the use of school-based police and toward the use of much needed mental health professionals in our schools. We also urge you to work with Congress to support positive school climates by submitting an FY 2022 budget that specifically prohibits all federal funding of police in schools, and endorsing the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act. Our students need more counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, and school nurses who use evidence-based and trauma-informed practices to enable children to thrive in positive learning environments.
Funding Police in Schools Criminalizes and Harms Our Students
Continuing the federal funding of police in schools (including School Resource Officers) funds the criminalization, discrimination, and mental and physical harm of our students. We know that placing police in schools makes it more likely for students in those schools to be suspended, referred to law enforcement, and arrested in school. These adverse outcomes inevitably lead to more students pulled into the criminal legal system. Students who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ, and those with disabilities experience most acutely the impact of school policing. Research has shown that transgender and nonbinary students experience higher levels of violence and criminalization than their cisgender peers. Students of color are more likely to attend a school with a police officer, and are more likely to be referred and arrested while at school. In districts with more Black students, school police are more likely to focus on the students themselves as the threats—in stark contrast to districts with more white students where police are more likely to focus on external threats. The racialization of policing in our communities has extended to our schools, and shows no signs of stopping.
Students with disabilities are even more likely to be targeted by police in school. School reported data show that students with disabilities were nearly three times more likely to be arrested and referred to law enforcement than students without disabilities (and this disparity increases up to tenfold in some states). This risk is multiplied in schools with police, as students with disabilities often attend schools that are underresourced to the point that teachers inappropriately rely on law enforcement to address concerns about disability-related issues. Students of color with disabilities experience the worst outcomes of all students—as they encounter the intersectional negative and compounding impacts of racism and ableism. Black boys with disabilities were five times more likely than all students to have police called. Although there have been countless lawsuits and settlements in schools and districts, the targeting and abuse toward students of color with disabilities continues.
Ending the use of federal dollars for the hiring of school police is an essential step in mitigating the traumas our students experience, as school districts rely on federal funding to subsidize the addition of new officers. The Department of Justice, through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), has provided nearly $1 billion in federal grants to state and local governments for the policing, surveillance, hardening, and militarization of schools—and granted $50 million in grants in 2020 alone. However, this federal funding did not lead to better student outcomes: schools receiving federal funding to hire more police experienced decreases in graduation rates and decreases in college enrollment rates. Students report that the presence of police in schools lead to a poorer school climate, increased police violence and brutality, and incarceration and referrals to family court and the juvenile justice system. We reject the hiring of even more police when evidence from countless studies shows that schools with police are no safer than those without.
Funding Counselors and Other Mental Health Professionals Supports Our Students
Instead, investment in healthy school climates—where students feel safe and valued— makes schools safer. This investment is made through the placement of school-based mental health personnel who use trauma-informed practices, transformative justice, and other supportive approaches. Schools that employ more school-based mental health providers see fewer disciplinary incidents, improved academic achievement, and improved graduation rates. One in every five children develop mental health disabilities, and students are 21 times more likely to seek mental health treatment from school-based providers than anywhere else. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased this need as youth are now experiencing an array of stresses and traumas associated with social isolation, loss of family members, and COVID infection. School closures and distance learning have not diminished the traumatizing and destabilizing impact of police officers, as they are now making house calls for academic concerns. Counselors and other mental health providers have the specialized training and experience to support students—not police. There are 14 million students in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker—nearly one third of our student population. Police violence in schools and communities has traumatized many Black and Brown students; instead of being victimized by police, our students deserve to be physically safe and supported by counselors and other mental health professionals. We ask you to use these funds to sustain our students.
We recognize the steps your Administration has already taken to address racial equity and criminal legal reform, and we respectfully urge you to act now to consider the inequities in our schools and the criminalization of our youth. While these asks are part of the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act of 2020 (H.R. 7848/S. 4360)—introduced in the last Congress and supported by 233 organizations—we collectively urge you to use the tools of the presidency to take the immediate action that our nation’s students deserve. We applaud that you have already committed to doubling the number of school-based mental health professionals through your education platform. We challenge you to repurpose your proposed $300 million investment in the COPS Office to hire those mental healthprofessionals instead of placing more police in our communities, and to support communityowned and community-driven safety strategies that are police-free and center the leadership of community residents and students in schools. We urge you to listen to the data, the evidence, and our students in eliminating federal support of police in schools. With a new commitment to divert this federal funding to fund the placement of more mental health professionals in our schools, your administration would display leadership in recognizing our students and communities’ calls for safer schools where our students can feel supported and thrive.
If you have any questions about the issues raised in this letter, please contact West Resendes of the American Civil Liberties Union at [email protected] and Chris Scott of the Open Society Policy Center at [email protected]
For Full List of Signatories see Attached Letter