(The Root) — In response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association has called for armed guards and/or police officers in public schools. But a coalition of civil rights and education advocates, along with law-enforcement professionals and members of Congress, is doing everything it can to make sure that doesn't happen.
As Vice President Joe Biden's task force on gun violence develops its policy recommendations to halt gun violence, the group — including the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools Campaign, the Alliance for Educational Justice, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and others — has released a white paper outlining the problems already experienced when police and armed guards are stationed in schools, and offering alternative recommendations.
"School safety is absolutely our highest priority," said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. "It's important to note that police in schools do not necessarily increase safety; nor do they catch early indicators of mental-health needs, identify root and underlying causes of violence or use the resources of law enforcement in an effective way," Browne Dianis added. "Instead of addressing infrequent, serious threats to safety, police in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by handcuffing, arresting and criminalizing the young people they were intended to protect."
Findings from the coalition's white paper include the following:
The increased police presence in schools has led to a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests, particularly youth of color. During the 2011-2012 school year alone, the state of Florida reported 13,870 student arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
The majority of student arrests are for discretionary offenses such as disruption, disorderly conduct, and minor school fights.
Schools are considered the safest places for young people. Most youth victims of violent crime take place outside of school, with less than 2% of all youth homicides occurring in schools. Police must concentrate their resources on preventing and responding to crime where it is happening.
The effects of contact with the juvenile justice system can be severe and long-lasting for young people, following them when applying for college, the military or a job.
"Armed guards cause many students to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own school," said Tanisha Denard, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. "School is a place for learning. It shouldn't be an introduction or pathway to the criminal-justice system."