When We Talk About Police Reform, We Need to Talk About Policing In Schools Too

While issues related to systemic racism in policing have made headlines in recent years, the inappropriate use of police in our nation’s schools remains under-addressed. In the United States today, 1.7 million students attend a school with police officers, but no counselors. Three million students attend a school with police officers but no nurse, 6 million with police and no psychologist, and 10 million with police but no social workers. As a whole, there are over 46,000 school resource officers (SROs) patrolling the halls of K-12 schools in the nation. These figures are shocking, and all too often ignored. But as the Black Lives Matter Movement and protests over the course of 2020 have raised a national consciousness surrounding police brutality and over-policing in general, it has become increasingly clear that this nation is in desperate need of police reform, and that reform must take place in schools, too.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a theory that connects a trend of suspending and arresting students within the U.S. school system to pushing those children into the prison industrial system. Students who are suspended or expelled are three times more likely to become involved in the juvenile legal system. And since over-policing takes place in majority-Black and Brown neighborhoods, the negative impact of over-policing has become an extremely important racial justice issue that intersectional feminists should have on their radar. This cycle must come to an end.

Since 2000, school suspensions have increased by 10 percent. While due in-part to zero-tolerance policies around carrying weapons (which has been loosely interpreted within schools), over-policing in schools applies to minor offenses and impacts students all the way down to the elementary school level. Studies found that 48 percent of preschool children suspended on more than one occasion were Black and that students with disabilities were also more frequently suspended than those without. And even though Black children only make up about 15 percent of students in school nationwide, they make up 33 percent of those arrested.

Over-policing in schools does not just negatively impact students of color in terms of pushing them into the juvenile detention system. Students of color are, on average, assaulted by school police at a rate of at least once a week, and LGBTQIA+ students have reported feeling significantly less safe around school-based police who are euphemistically called School Resource Officers (SROs), and have even reported being harassed by school security at times. School police also have a detrimental impact on student’s education, with about 31 percent of students who are suspended or expelled repeating a grade and, in some areas with high SRO presence, high school graduation rates decreasing by approximately 2.5 percent and college enrollment rates by 4 percent. Thankfully, change is starting to be made.

In early November, the Boulder Valley School Board in Colorado voted to remove all police officers from Boulder public schools after evaluating the impact SROs have had on students of color. Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, who are both part of Everytown for Gun Safety, noted that there is no evidence that SROs make schools safer from violence. There is evidence, however, that SROs make schools less safe, specifically for students of color. On a similar note, Minneapolis, along with Denver, Oakland, and Portland, have cut ties with their school police departments following a national outcry for police reform and moving police-related funds to other resources and community-based models of policing.

As local governments begin to take the steps to remove police from schools, the same needs to be done at the federal level. This is exactly what representatives Ayanna Pressley (MA) and Ilhan Omar (MN), and senators Chris Murphy (CT) and Elizabeth Warren (MA) are aiming for with the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act (S.4360 / H.R.7848). First introduced to Congress in July, 2020, this act would reduce police presence in schools by prohibiting federal funds from hiring police officers on K-12 campuses and establishing a grant program that will provide $2.5 billion for replacing school police with highly trained counselors, social workers, nurses, mental health professionals, and other trauma-informed personnel. The bill authors have also made provisions for preventing grant money from going towards zero-tolerance discipline policies, surveillance technology, and arming teachers.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has issued a letter to senators and representatives urging them to support the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, and it’s our job as intersectional feminists to do the same. In our activist work, we must not only work towards making this country a safer place for all by mobilizing for police reform and for the excessive amount of funds dedicated to our nation’s police to be funneled back into communities, but we must use our grassroots on the state and local level to ensure that students, and specifically students of color, are being advocated for in the same way.

Blog by Aliza Pelto, NOW Communications Intern


The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: https://civilrights.org/resource/support-childrens-health-and-well-being-cosponsor-s-4360-h-r-7848-the-counseling-not-criminalization-in-schools-act/

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cKDyAl4uk0x5FcUBOKXtsqGvOc31XxG4kPaYtiFD9uU/edit

Vox “The School To Prison Pipeline, Explained”: https://www.vox.com/2015/2/24/8101289/school-discipline-race

Bloomberg “There’s a Movement to Defund School Police, Too”: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-24/minneapolis-denver-and-oakland-defund-school-police

Everytown for Gun Safety: https://everytown.org/press/colorado-moms-demand-action-students-demand-action-applaud-the-boulder-valley-school-board-for-voting-to-remove-police-officers-from-boulder-valley-public-schools/

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