As students return to school, their safety is on the minds of many.

Karen Dolan, director of the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project, joined CounterSpin to discuss school safety, student resource officers (SROs), and alternatives to traditional disciplinary measures for students.

Dolan acknowledges the severity of school shootings and gun violence, but argues that many common school security measures can actually make school less safe for some students.

“School shootings… of course, endanger our public school students,” said Dolan. But at the same time, there are “millions of students also being endangered” by issues like “excessive expulsions, suspensions, referrals to the criminal justice system, lack of proper support in school for academics, for social and emotional learning, and for well-being.”

According to Dolan, the Department of Education seems to be doing “exactly the wrong thing,” in regards to their approach to improving school safety.

One solution popularized by Trump’s administration is increasing the presence of SROs, or police officers charged with patrolling schools. Findings from Dolan’s report, Students Under Siege, indicate schools with SROs have “about a five times greater instance of referring children to the juvenile legal system.”

Further, the presence of SROs disproportionately affects students from historically marginalized communities.

Unfortunately, Dolan says, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department have “made it clear that they won’t intervene when there are problems with discrimination and overly harsh punitive processes and now have proposed to take funding from these very important supports for children and put them, instead, into purchasing guns for teachers who don’t want them.”

Dolan argues that the increasingly punitive approaches favored by DeVos and many school districts should be replaced with evidence-based alternatives such as restorative justice programs.

“I don’t think that anybody, deep down, feels that the safety of our children is a partisan issue,” said Dolan. “It’s a matter of understanding what the word safety means in a holistic way for the well-being of our children and their future.”

Listen to the full interview at CounterSpin.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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