How “Law and Order” Policies Inflict Violence on Students of Color, and What We Can Do About It

BOULDER, CO (June 8, 2017) – Over the past decade, a series of publicized, tragic shootings has highlighted the reality that Black, Latinx, and Native American youth are more likely to be killed or injured as a result of routine interactions with police. At the same time, the harmful effects of zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools have been documented in research and in journalistic accounts.

A new report released today by the National Education Policy Center explores how these and other injustices inflict violence on students of color. It describes how violence within the system of public education is inextricably bound up with violence in the larger society within which schools are embedded. The authors then outline local and state policy alternatives that work to restore dignity and wellbeing.

The report, titled Law and Order in School and Society: How Discipline and Policing Policies Harm Students of Color, and What We Can Do About It, was authored by Janelle Scott, Michele Moses, Kara Finnigan, Tina Trujillo and Darrell Jackson.

“The violence and trauma inflicted upon students of color is sometimes overt and direct,” said Janelle Scott, associate professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley. “That’s what we experience with police shootings of young, unarmed people of color, which are immediate, shocking and brutal, as are disproportional police stops and arrests of people of color.” But she stressed that “ongoing, sustained traumas experienced by children in our schools are also brutal.”

Kara Finnigan, associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education added, “in urban contexts, students experience schools that are segregated and are continuously undergoing disruptive reforms such as turnaround and closure. Added to this instability and separation are policies that invite school police to actively ticket and arrest, plus harsh discipline policies focused on suspension and expulsion.”

The report highlights how attempts to achieve “law and order” unfairly target students of color with a systemic form of violence that harms their abilities to secure equitable and just schooling.

This violence is preventable, explained Michele Moses, professor of education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Policymakers at all levels of educational and social systems have an opportunity to design a robust system of supports that address the many opportunity gaps children of color and low-income families face inside and outside of school,” she said.

The report stresses that change must occur at multiple levels and in multiple institutions. For schools specifically, it offers eight recommendations, split between the local and state levels, as alternatives to current ineffective and counter-productive education policies.

Local Approaches

  • Coordinate communication and planning so that municipalities and school districts work together on policing, housing, transportation, and racial disparities.
  • Redirect funds currently spent on school resource officers to expenditures shown to improve student engagement and social connectivity, including increasing the number of guidance counselors, advanced-level and enrichment courses, socio-emotional learning curricula, and high-quality extra-curricular activities.
  • Invest in the creation or support of racially and socioeconomically integrated schools.
  • Integrate community-based policing programs with school restorative and transformative justice initiatives to shift the emphasis from discipline and punishment toward capacity building, relationship building, and positive behavioral interventions and supports.

State Policies

  • Require teachers, school leaders, and all security staff to receive intensive preparation, trauma-informed professional development, and ongoing training on the causes of, and remedies for, racial inequality within and outside of school.
  • Require reporting of in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for traditional public schools and charter schools, disaggregated by race and gender. Develop interventions for schools with racially identifiable, disproportionate rates of these disciplinary actions.
  • Develop multiple measures of schools’ effectiveness in place of narrowly focused test-based measures. Use these data to develop more positive, supportive interventions aimed at decreasing suspension, expulsion, and referral rates.
  • Create teacher-police collaborative networks and invest in “grow your own” teacher preparation programs that help to develop, support, and retain teachers of color and teachers committed to equitable educational practices.

Find Law and Order in School and Society: How Discipline and Policing Policies Harm Students of Color, and What We Can Do About It, by Janelle Scott, Michele Moses, Kara Finnigan, Tina Trujillo and Darrell Jackson, at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/law-and-order

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (greatlakescenter.org).

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu