A Parent's Opinion of Police Presence in Schools
My oldest child just turned 12. There are so many new experiences coming our way, rites of passage as she stands on the threshold of adolescence. She is bright, creative (read: dramatic), and loves school. We are lucky that her friends are polite, sweet, “good kids” with like-minded parents.
The age of 12 represents a lot for me as a parent. Not only are the teen years less than a year away, but my daughter has started middle school—a setting where I can only worry more and protect her less from the trials of growing up. Elementary school was a little bubble, a protective cocoon where all the kids felt like part of our big family. As parents, we had the goal of protecting them all.
Middle school is different. My daughter told me that sometimes there are police in the school cafeteria to stop occasional fights. This revelation made me catch my breath. Gone is the protective bubble of those elementary-school years. I was horrified and completely torn.
On one hand, I am a mother, and I want my children protected from every hurt and bad experience. The idea that she is in a school where kids are engaging in the kind of behavior that requires police intervention made her seem even more unsafe and vulnerable to me. My husband’s take was “Good! Kick out all of the troublemakers!” Of course, he seems to forget that once upon a time, he was a troublemaker. The behaviors that got detention or were worked out by the classroom teacher in his day are now leading to arrests, charges, and probation officers. Don’t get me wrong, there was a side of me, the mother-lion side, who was completely agreeing with him. But, it is not so cut and dried.
As a Multisystemic Therapy (MST) practitioner for most of my professional career, I know that some kids start getting into trouble at this age. Fighting, truancy, even substance use begins to appear with some kids in middle school. If unchecked, these behaviors become much worse through high school. I also know that police intervention is one of the least effective ways to change how these children act. Kids do best when their parents are the authority when they are in charge. Schools and parents need to work together to get kids back on the right track—the earlier the better.
Closing the School to Prison Pipeline
The school-to-prison pipeline, until now, has been a concept I only encountered or thought about at work. This term describes the way juveniles acting out in school are criminalized, putting them on a pathway to further legal involvement, less pro-social opportunities, dropping out of school, and higher risk for adult incarceration. But here it is as a reality in my child’s school. And those kids the police are there to manage are the same kids who a year ago were part of my unofficial family that I wanted to protect in the bubble with my own children.
I made a decision after talking to my daughter and my husband. I will not be a parent that advocates a child be removed from school due to his or her behavior. Don’t get me wrong. If my child is at risk, I will be advocating, but I will be advocating for a solution for all the children involved. I will hold the school accountable for keeping everyone safe. I will also be trying to help problem solve what is getting in the way. I will encourage in-school suspensions, not arrests or external suspensions.
We all benefit from the children in our communities being educated. We all benefit from children being held reasonably accountable for their behaviors. (Note the emphasis on “reasonably.”) We all benefit from giving kids the opportunity to have more exposure to pro-social friends and activities. We all benefit from supporting parents in our communities to address and manage their children’s challenging behavior differently and getting schools the resources they need. We all lose when bright young kids are put on a pathway to prison and poverty when their behavior is criminalized in the sixth grade.
As parents we have power. School administrators feel their hands are tied by the parents of the “good kids” demanding change or removal of the “troublemakers.” As the parents of kids making better choices, we need to use the power we have to advocate for change. We need to say we want a solution other than the police in our schools. We can advocate for all the kids as we did in elementary school when we saw them all as “ours.” We can make a difference and create communities where all children have the opportunity to flourish.
After years of advocating this to my client families, it is time to move from “talking the talk” to “walking the walk” in my community.