PAGE Opinion Piece: SROs in Schools

July 12, 2020

The Milwaukee and Madison school districts voted unanimously to end their police in schools contract, as have other districts across the country, and others are discussing it, such as Green Bay. Similar conversations are happening in nearby suburbs like Waukesha and Burlington. Is it time to reconsider the Greendale School District’s contract with the police department to have School Resource Officers (SROs) in our schools? Greendale School District can lead the way with this effort. Here are some realities to consider:

The presence of police officers does not increase safety for students and administrators

  • The evidence points to the presence of SROs in schools increasing risk for students, not decreasing them; disproportionately criminalizing discipline issues among students of color (particularly Black and Brown students); creating an environment of fear for students; and not decreasing the risk of school shootings or other violence.
  • The 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead, occurred while there was an armed officer on campus. There were also officers present on the Santa Fe High School campus when a student shot and killed 8 students and 2 teachers in 2018.

The presence of SROs does not improve relationships between students and police—especially among students of color

  • According to a study by the Brookings Institution, “research shows that increased frequencies of interactions between students and SROs were not related to feelings of safety at school. Rather, student experiences at school were better predictors of feeling of safety.”
  • Female students, Black students, and those who have experienced school violence felt less safe, even with SROs present.
  • This study indicated that SROs did not increase safety in the middle schools the researchers studied, increased the risk of criminalizing students of color, and “alternative investments in smaller middle schools and strategies for improving learning outcomes might accomplish greater school safety outcomes.”

Police from the Greendale Safety Center are very nearby to the schools in case of emergency

  • Given that GSD has 2 SROs for 7 schools, it is likely the SRO won’t be on the scene when conflicts arise.
  • The Greendale Safety Center is 1.4 miles (3-minute drive) to Greendale High School (GHS)—this is the same distance as between College Park Elementary School and GHS and a shorter distance than Highland View to GHS.

The presence of police in schools increases the criminalization of students of color—including in districts with similar demographics to Greendale schools

  • Black students are most likely to be punished despite often being one of the smallest populations in many school districts across the country.
  • Black males are 3x more likely to be arrested at schools than their white male peers.
  • Black girls are arrested 1.5x more than their white male peers.
  • Of the schools that referred students to law enforcement, 17% of their enrollments were Black, yet 26% of all students referred to law enforcement were Black. Across a majority of states, no other group has such a high arrest-to-enrollment ratio.

Our students of color (25% of Greendale students) are disproportionately impacted by police in schools, often impacting their ability to thrive in school

  • According to several recent studies, police in school have a direct impact on lower test scores for Black boys (New York) and may be responsible for lowering graduation rates and college attendance (Texas).
  • Wisconsin has the highest opportunity gap for students of color in the country.
  • On the Forward Exam in 2018-19, for example, 63.3% of white fourth-graders scored advanced or proficient in English Language Arts compared to 13.8% of black students.

Taxpayer dollars could be better spent in the community for counselors, de-escalation training, or other efforts

  • For the 2019-20 school fiscal year, over $165,000 is being spent toward the SRO positions at Greendale schools.
  • Teachers and administrators are typically the first on the scene during conflicts.
  • For example, in 2016, a Tennessee middle school counselor talked down a student who came to school with a loaded gun and extra ammunition.
  • In Milwaukee as well as other towns and cities across the country, mental health counselors ride along with police to help to de-escalate conflict and reduce trauma.

Sincerely,
Executive Board
People Advocating for Greendale Equity (PAGE)


1 https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2019/07/24/jcps-board-members-say-police-schools-puts-our-kids-danger/1808188001/; https://wfpl.org/do-school-resource-officers-prevent-school-shootings/;
2 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2018/11/08/does-more-policing-make-middle-schools-safer/
3 https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/03/22/why-are-we-criminalizing-black-students.html
4 https://www.chalkbeat.org/2019/2/14/21121037/new-studies-point-to-a-big-downside-for-schools-bringing-in-more-police
5 https://madison.com/ct/news/local/education/wisconsin-has-highest-racial-achievement-gap-according-to-national-test-results/article_1639a81d-2fe2-5d70-b623-49594d31d98f.html