Education, News

Students, civil rights groups: It’s time to remove law enforcement officers from our schools

Enloe High School student Yacob Lemma speaking at yesterday’s press conference

For years, researchers, advocates, education leaders and students in North Carolina and nationwide have been calling for action to end what have come to be known as the “school-to-prison” and “school-to-deportation” pipelines.

The central premise of their advocacy has been that schools should be institutions of education, safety and refuge for children – not places of fear and intimidation where kids must constantly confront the prospect of interacting with the criminal justice and/or immigration control systems.

Yesterday, a group of advocates and Wake County young people renewed this advocacy effort by calling for the removal of so-called “school resource officers” or “SRO’s” from their public schools. The call came at an online press conference organized by the Wake County Black Student Coalition, the Education Justice Alliance, the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the ACLU of North Carolina.

In a detailed proposal entitled “Building Peace in Wake County Schools,” the group offered several examples of the ways in which students of color are the frequent recipients of widely disparate and negative treatment: Black students accounted for 73% of school-related entries into the youth justice system in Wake County during the 2018-19 academic year while only making up 22% of students.

As it lifted up the Twitter hashtag #CounselorNotCops, the group proposed replacing SRO’s with a network of “peacebuilders” – trained counselors who would be hired, trained and assigned by students, parents and community members at each school.

This is from a news release that the group distributed prior to the event:

The “Building Peace in Wake County Schools” proposal calls for:

  1. Removing all SROs from Wake County schools and ending all contracts between WCPSS and law enforcement agencies.
  2. Investing the money currently spent on policing students, as well as additional funding, to implement a Peacebuilder Program. Students, parents and community members at each school would be involved in the hiring, training and assignment of paid Peacebuilders.
  3. Enlisting local colleges and universities to assess the Peacebuilders’ impact on school climate, discipline disparities, school-based arrests and community engagement.
  4. Assisting parents, students and community members with making adjustments to the Peacebuilder Program based on assessments of the program’s overall impact.

In addition to the requests in the “Building Peace in Wake County Schools” proposal, the Wake County Black Student Coalition is asking WCPSS to:

  • Install staff accountability systems throughout the school district.
  • Create a platform to give students of color, and specifically Black students, a greater voice.
  • Create a safe and organized system for Wake County students to report sexual harassment of any kind.
  • Integrate an in-depth study of Black history into the main curriculum.

In anticipation of criticism that the group’s proposal was somehow a recipe for “destruction” or “chaos” in schools, Enloe High school student Yacob Lemma put it this way: “All we want is for our schools, for every single student, for an environment, for a place of love, because love is the most undermined thing that we have in our education systems.”

Click here to read the group’s full proposal.

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