Tucked into President Obama’s gun control proposal is a benign and seemingly uncontroversial call to improve school safety by staffing up schools with more police officers and counselors. It’s one of the big umbrella areas of his plan, announced today. But that initial policy proposal has civil rights advocates worried that instead of making for “more nurturing school climates,” as Obama says he wants to work toward, he’ll be exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline, another issue which Obama has worked proactively to address.
Obama is calling on Congress to fund schools to hire up to 1,000 more counselors, psychologists, social workers, and school resource officers, among other initiatives. While the name “school resource officers” is a rather benign term, they are actually typically sheriff’s deputies dispatched to patrol schools. As experience shows, more law enforcement officers do not necessarily make for safer school environments, and in fact can contribute to dynamics which push students out of school. As law enforcement officers who are called on to serve a disciplinary function in schools, they are a central part of the school-to-prison pipeline machine, an apparatus so-named for the ratcheting up of school discipline in the nation which has funneled youth, a disproportionate number of them black and Latino, out of schools and into the criminal justice system.
“We have several concerns about the administration incentivizing police departments and school districts to put more police officers in schools,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office.
“We fear that neutral sounding safety policies, such as putting more cops in school will lead to the over-incarceration of school-age children, especially students of color and students with disabilities, who are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for issues that would normally be handled by school administrators when law enforcement is introduced into schools.”
It is exactly this policy proposal which advocates had warned the Obama administration to avoid. The proposals are the result of a quickly assembled White House task force on curbing gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last month, when 26 people were killed. Obama’s gun control initiative will be taken up by Congress, where it faces stiff odds.
“If there’s even one thing that we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we have an obligation to try,” said Obama at a news conference today. “And I’m going to do my part.”