New York City, Chicago, and Miami-Dade have far more security officers — including school-based resource officers (SROs) and police — than counselors, according to an explosive new investigation. That means three of the five largest school districts in the country prioritize school security above students’ mental health.
The 74, a news outlet dedicated to education coverage, reports that four out the the 10 largest public school districts in U.S. have more officers than counselors. New York City, the largest public school system, has roughly six security officers and three counselors for every 1,000 students. In Chicago, the third largest school district, there are about four officers and two counselors for every 1,000 students. Miami-Dade County, the fifth largest district, has approximately three times more security staff than counselors. And in Houston, the seventh largest district, there are .78 counselors per 1,000 students compared to 1.16 officers.
Even when social workers were included, officers outnumbered people who offer emotional and academic support in New York City, Chicago, and Houston.
“Our goal is to provide a safe, respectful and supportive environment for students to thrive academically and socially,” Department of Education spokesperson Toya Holness told the 74. “We are working across city agencies, including NYPD and FDNY, to ensure the safety and security of students and staff.”
But that line of reasoning has been debunked by countless studies that confirm officers in schools do more harm than good by escalating tension with students and funneling young people through the school-to-prison pipeline — often for minor disciplinary infractions, such as violating a dress code.
Students of color are disproportionately targeted. People with developmental disabilities or behavioral disorders also tend to be arrested more often for struggling to control their impulses or emotions. Those students are desperately in need of counseling or special education that may simply not exist in their schools.
Chicago paints a particularly vivid picture of the school-to-prison pipeline, with 7,703 arrests made during the 2013–2014 school year alone. Fifty percent of arrests made in 2013 were for school fights. And that year, 3,414 black students and 892 Latino students were arrested, compared to 192 white students.
During her tenure as Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez has tried to seek the maximum penalties for as many students as possible. But even those who aren’t prosecuted wind up with a criminal record, hurting their future prospects.
“You’re supposed to take into account that these are children,” Mariame Kaba, the founder of Project Nia in Chicago, previously told ThinkProgress. The organization compiles annual school arrest data and fights youth incarceration in the city. “The directives that [Alvarez] issues within her own office, basically she believes that incarceration is the first resort. The research doesn’t support that, around children and how [they] make mistakes.”
When students are confronted by officers, they are much more likely to drop out and commit serious crimes in the future. Besides the long-term consequences of school policing, officers in schools also cause short-term damage. Time and time again, physical force is used on students in heavily-policed schools, creating a culture of fear rather than a safe learning environment.
On the other hand, extensive research shows that counseling improves school safety and boosts academic achievement.
The 74 points out that students of color are the majority in the 10 largest school districts, and many of them come from low-income backgrounds and benefit from school counselors. But prioritizing officers means those students are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement than to get the help they need to succeed.
“I don’t think schools are an oasis from the racial problems that affect the rest of society,” director Dennis Parker of the ACLU Racial Justice Program told the news outlet. “If there were more emphasis on preventing problems rather than dealing with them when they happen, schools would ultimately be safer and students’ performance would be better.”