DC-CORE Statement on School Safety
It is disappointing that the Washington Teachers Union President would sign on to a joint statement focusing on safety in schools and calling for the Chancellor and The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to do more.
In reality, MPD will not solve the myriad of ways DC Public Schools (DCPS), DC Department of General Services (DGS) and agencies tasked with oversight have failed teachers and students.
DGS has allowed basic safety, such as functioning doors, locks, and ventilation lapse. In the case of a lockdown, the ability to secure every classroom is the minimum expectation, yet teachers across the district report not being able to secure their rooms. In the case of a reverse evacuation, an event requiring the immediate return to the school building, functioning doors, keys and fobs are essential. Unfortunately, there has been at least one situation where reentry was delayed because of inoperable entry mechanisms. In another case, doors not closing properly left schools vulnerable to outside threats. Health and safety have not been prioritized for years. One only needs to look at the ongoing DGS maintenance requests ranging from leaking windows and roofs to plumbing to HVAC. Suggesting MPD as a solution to school safety reflects both a narrow view of the problems and a misaligned solution.
Of all the needs schools face, School Resource Officers (SROs) are among the least effective in meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.
What schools actually need are more adults in a variety of roles who can help students navigate complex academic, social, and emotional challenges. This includes social workers, school psychologists, and community partners who can facilitate small groups and 1:1 counseling. Schools also need staff who can pull individual students who are in crisis and not ready to engage in class activities. Too often, SROs are pulled in when students are experiencing behavioral challenges resulting in problematic interactions between school police and students.
Smaller classes and caseloads across the board are essential so that students can receive more individual feedback and support from the educator. The ratios used 4 years ago simply do not work today. We are asking too much of educators when the majority of the students are two or more grades behind in reading or math.
Additionally, our classrooms need to reflect 21st century realities and provide more ways to engage with content using digital technology. The curriculum also needs to afford students opportunities to demonstrate their learning in ways that mirror evolving college and career norms. Until we have shown up for students and offered robust supportive, school-based solutions to behavior concerns, SROs represent the path of least resistance. It is short sighted, politically expedient, and will not fundamentally improve school safety.
Fully funding public schools and investment in the community will directly impact and increase the feeling of safety throughout our schools.
This means smaller class sizes, robust wrap around mental health services, and real training and follow through in restorative justice programs to better support challenges facing both students and staff.
For too long, too much has been asked of schools. It is time for DC leaders to take responsibility and address the root causes of violence and illicit activity that finds its way into students' lives.
SROs are not the answer. If they are the answer, we are not asking the right questions. Until we have plugged these other holes in the system, we can’t think that the police belong in schools.