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Police in schools 'not the answer,' coalition says, urging broader strategy

Civil rights groups, educators, and law enforcement representatives say police in schools, 'while well-intentioned,' can end up causing other problems for students the police are there to protect.

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The coalition speaking on Friday emphasized that rather than having a knee-jerk reaction of spending more money on police, lawmakers should consider directing more resources to school counselors, psychologists, and programs that help young people manage conflict peacefully.

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The issue brief released Friday by the Advancement Project, the NAACP LDF, the Dignity in Schools Campaign, and the Alliance for Educational Justice is available by clicking here.

Jonathan Brice, the School Support Network Officer for Baltimore City Public Schools, said during the call that adding well-trained officers is only effective in a broader context of creating a positive school climate, where students’ social and emotional needs are met and there is not a zero-tolerance disciplinary approach.

Despite the large shadow cast by mass shootings such as those in Columbine and Sandy Hook, the more “typical school shooting,” Brice said, is like what happened Thursday in Taft, Calif., in which a student allegedly burst into his classroom with a shotgun, fired at several people, and then was persuaded by the teacher to put the gun down.

The alleged shooter felt bullied by his targets, according to local law enforcement officials.

“The real issue around many of these shootings [is] a student [who] felt isolated, felt as if they had no one to turn to … and felt that their only recourse was to come to school and to attack someone,” Brice said. The solution is “about creating an environment that is respectful of everyone.”

Most such attacks “are stopped by staff in the school rather than an armed person,” added Gregory Thomas, former head of security for New York City schools.

“Investing in ongoing schoolwide practices to reduce bullying behavior, increasing after-school activities, and integrating community services and programs like peer counseling, wellness programs and other social supports, are just a few examples of how communities like Baltimore and Cleveland have been able to reduce school-based violence,” according to a set of school-safety recommendations issued recently by the American Federation of Teachers.

Both the AFT and the National PTA have also called for more gun-control measures such as banning assault weapons and large ammunition magazines, and for universal background checks for gun purchases.

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