Call to Action: Bills Limiting Student Arrests

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Arresting students in school for non-violent offenses is absurd. This practice, which has become more and more common in the last decade, is only hurting our schools and our students. Because public school funding has apparently become no one’s priority, schools are underfunded and understaffed. This leads to them implementing “zero-tolerance” policies where even minor offenses can be grounds for suspension, expulsion, or arrest.  With these policies come SROs (School Resource Officer) who have become increasingly involved in arresting students where in the past they used "conflict resolution techniques" (S297). Although I’m sure the thinking behind frequently arresting and disciplining students is that they will learn their lesson, it actually only creates more of a problem. Students who are suspended/expelled are three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile legal system within a year (CSG Justice Center). Most of the students who are most affected by this are black or Hispanic. Research conducted in New York shows that blacks are almost twice as likely and Hispanics are one-and-a-half times as likely to get suspended than whites (Civil Rights Project). This means that a disproportionate number of students of color (not to mention disabled students) are introduced to the criminal justice system very early on in their lives. This entire racist process is what we call the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

“The social cost of suspending, expelling or arresting large numbers of students for minor offences, especially those who are most in need of the support and structure offered by school, is profound.” –Susan Krumholz, AFT Newsletter

Not only does arresting students harm them and their families, it also harms schools and other students because classrooms lose perspectives that students of color and disabled students bring to the table. This type of disciplining in school does not benefit anyone. The process is also very cyclical: if fewer students ended up in jails, less money would have to go to maintaining those facilities. Wouldn’t it be better if instead of sending students and money to jail, we sent both to schools?

Right now, there are two bills in the MA state Senate that are trying to reduce student arrests.  Please read the bills below and call your state senator to help us make these laws!

S297: “An Act further defining the role of school resource officers”

This bill describes how police chiefs should pick school resource officers and what the SRO’s job should be. The SRO should be an officer who has training in conflict resolution and managing adolescent behavior in a non-violent way. The officer will be subject to an annual performance report, and the superintendent and the police chief will agree on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to clearly define the SRO’s role.

S842: “An Act decriminalizing non-violent and verbal student misconduct”

This bill states that elementary and secondary school students cannot be arrested if they interrupt a school-related assembly.

 Image: Handcuffed Hands Vector Illustration (Vectorportal/CC)