When it comes to making schools safer, it’s sometimes hard to decide where to begin: the quality of the schooling, the way people treat each other, the physical design of the school, adequate security features and good policing are all worthy of attention. A 2014 report by the nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center, The School Discipline Consensus Report, (http://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/school-discipline-consensus-report/ ) tackles most of these nicely.
The report has a lot to offer, which is both its strength and its weakness. It does an admirable job of leading the reader through fine details on positive behavior support as well as school policing to an extent that risks being excessive for those of us with a bit of experience, but it all needs to be said, establishing a shared foundation of information, and as a result is worth walking through.
The strengths-based positive behavior and connectivity pieces are greatly appreciated, largely reinforcing points I’ve covered in other blogs, and reassuring me that my own work is on the right track. Points emphasizing the need for a broad range of services are also very much in synch with the Comprehensive Learning Supports program championed by UCLA for many years now, (http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/briefs/paradigmshift.pdf ) and slowly gaining traction. Hopefully, the release of this report will help it gain momentum as well.
The section of the report addressing police in the schools I found particularly useful on a number of fronts, not the least of which was to much more carefully parse the need for police intervention with student misconduct. Particularly in communities of color, the historical over-criminalization of adolescent misbehavior has been counterproductive, undermining many students’ school experiences and contributing to the infamous school-to-prison pipeline. As the report notes, “In New York City, 95% of all arrests in public schools studied in 2011-2012 involved Black or Hispanic students. Their representation in the student population was approximately 30 percent of students.”
The report suggests careful vetting of school officers to make sure they’re a good fit for particular schools, age groups or cultures. Some schools truly are war zones, while others are mostly functional, and these may call for significantly different approaches, at least until things are under control. Officers have widely different personalities, philosophies and skill-sets, some of which can reinforce a positive behavior support approach. Others may be better placed elsewhere. Ultimately, an officer’s ability to build rapport and positive relationships with students may be more important than their skills on other fronts, and certainly more important than their ability to deliver a canned curriculum.
The points noted above barely offer a taste of what the report covers. As I indicated, it’s comprehensive, almost to a fault, but a richly detailed source of good information.