Commentary: Parkland-Inspired School Safety Law Could Multiply Student Arrests

Commentary: Parkland-Inspired School Safety Law Could Multiply Student Arrests

“It takes a village to raise a child” — and to protect that child. In response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy in Parkland this past February, our state Legislature passed a law requiring every school be outfitted with a law-enforcement officer or armed guard. This approach, however, is misguided. In the effort to protect our students from mass shootings, we must not lose sight of our responsibility to raise our children. Increased school policing could lead to increased student arrests for misbehavior better handled by school administrators.

But that doesn’t have to happen — uniform, predictable discipline policies, robust pre-arrest diversion programs and clear roles of law enforcement in our village can mitigate this very real risk.

School administrators are also 2.5 times as likely to refer students with disabilities to law enforcement, an unfortunate side effect of the lack of mental-health resources. The district expects guidance counselors to serve more than twice the recommended number of students, and in 2016-2017 there were 114 resource and law-enforcement officers serving our schools and 53 registered school nurses.

Without clear roles for law enforcement, these trends will only be exacerbated with the new requirement for an officer at every school. These officers are in our schools in the name of safety — not discipline. Our schools are not prisons, and our students should not be treated as suspects. A revamped school-justice partnership outlining a security focus for the resource officers is necessary.

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