Dec 12, 2013
The School Security America Doesn’t Need
Posted on Feb 27, 2013
By Chase Madar, TomDispatch
The metal detector at the schoolhouse door is threatening to become as iconic an American symbol as baseball or type 2 diabetes. Not that metal detectors in place were capable of preventing the massacre at Red Lake High School in Minnesota in 2005: young Jeffrey Weise just barged right in and shot six people dead; nor could the metal detectors at George Washington High School in Manhattan or Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn prevent teens from getting stabbed. Yet metal detectors and school police proliferate across the country.
One state, however, truly leads the way. Self-satisfied Yankees have traditionally slandered the state of Mississippi as a jerkwater remnant of the past. As for me, I say Mississippi represents the American future. A new report by advocacy groups shows how the Hospitality State is leading the nation in cruel and draconian school over-policing. Felony assault charges for throwing peanuts on the school bus! Dress codes enforced by handcuffing a child to a railing for hours for the crime of not wearing a belt! Cops escorting a five-year-old home for wearing the wrong color shoes! And constant arrests of kids for “disorderly conduct.”
Yes, the “Mississippi model” of non-union teachers plus “zero tolerance” discipline is the kind of schooling that some of the best and brightest among our education “reformers” have been touting—and what they are increasingly getting. In fairness, Governor Rick Perry’s Texas is struggling with Mississippi for vanguard status, with cutting-edge surveillance of students and 300,000 misdemeanor arrests in 2010 for “crimes” like tossing a paper airplane. And Massachusetts is a strong contender for third place.
Safe Schools Without Police or Metal Detectors
In fact, they do better than fine: one report I coauthored with advocates from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform found that schools without police or metal detectors actually get significantly better educational results (higher graduation rates, lower truancy) than their heavily policed counterparts.
So why aren’t these low-impact schools being held up as models? Why don’t City Hall and the New York City Department of Education seem to want to know about these more effective—not to mention cheaper—models? Alas, despite a steady 15-year nationwide drop in crime, politicos continue to score points with voters by showing that they aren’t afraid to crack down on children, especially the working-class Black and Latino youth who bear most of the brunt of these policies. The psycho-racial-political dynamics are pretty much the same throughout the country.
But there are proven, demonstrably better, ways to do school discipline. Ask Judge Steve Teske whose visionary common sense has brought down referrals to juvenile court by 70% in Clayton County, Georgia, by forcing schools to handle minor disciplinary infractions without handcuffs or police arrests. (In the same period in that county, serious weapons charges, like bringing guns and knives to school, have fallen by 80%—further evidence that restraining a police presence actually makes schools safer.)
For another example of the right way to respond to school violence, look no further than Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, site of the 1999 massacre of 12 students and a teacher by two heavily armed students. In response, the school made the choice not to add a phalanx of armed guards. (Columbine actually had an armed school resource officer on duty the day of the killings, and he was unable to slow, let alone stop, the carnage.)
In fact, Columbine today remains an open campus with no metal detector at the front door. Instead, its administration has worked hard to improve communications with the student body, trying to build an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Columbine parents have supported this approach for a simple reason: they don’t want their children treated like criminals. Because Littleton, Colorado, is a largely affluent community with political muscle, they’ve been able to resist the avalanche of punitive measures that have been generated by every school massacre since the one that took place at theirs.
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