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Police and punitive policies make schools less safe, especially for minority students


Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit grappled with the question of how to balance the rights of students with the need for security and order in schools. In a case arising from a Kansas City public school, a police officer handcuffed a 7-year-old black boy and escorted him to the principal’s office for becoming upset after a classmate “incessantly teased” him. The boy remained handcuffed until his father arrived at school 20 minutes later.

Bringing in police officers to handcuff second-graders simply because they are upset or defiant is not good educational policy. But according to the 8th Circuit, it’s legal.

This punitive decision is a product of changes in educational policy over the past 50 years, in which schools have argued, and courts have agreed, that harsher punishments are necessary for reasons of student safety. As students have become more vocal in asserting their rights, educators and legislators have responded by turning to police officers and more severe disciplinary policies, both of which have done little to enhance education but have done much to perpetuate racial inequality.

The increase in school security is directly linked to the rise of student activism that started to transform schools 50 years ago. In the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court famously declared that teachers and students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” siding with Christopher Eckhardt, John Tinker and Mary Beth Tinker, who wore black armbands to express opposition to the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965. Their protest was only one example of the hundreds of student protests that roiled American schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their lawsuit, however, was a watershed moment in U.S. legal history because it extended constitutional rights to all public school students.

Read entire article at Washington Post