Educators for Excellence | July 2020

During this pandemic, students are dealing with isolation, grief, family members losing jobs, and health concerns. And, due to so many recent incidents of police violence, add race-related fear and trauma to that list. 

Students bring all kinds of trauma into the classroom with them, E4E-Boston member Tyrell Adeyemi says, and that trauma will only be heightened in the coming school year--whether it’s in-person or on a screen.

No wonder educators are more worried than ever about students’ social-emotional needs.

Teachers nationwide say a top concern for returning to school is their students’ social and emotional well-being, according to Voices from the (Virtual) Classroom

Tyrell, an English teacher at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in Boston, believes relationships are key to building trust with his students, which helps him use restorative justice measures and get to the root cause of students’ problems.

But building a safe, positive school climate, where students feel comfortable seeking support from the adults in their school, can’t be accomplished by single teachers working in isolation -- it takes a school-wide effort. That’s easier said than done. Even before the pandemic, our school systems often weren’t recognizing the critical role counselors and other support professionals play in supporting students’ social and emotional health, which not only allows kids to thrive academically, but also greatly reduces discipline issues. 

In fact, 14 million students attend a school with a police officer but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker. 

Yet while there is proof that counselors in schools reduce discipline issues, there is no conclusive evidence that the presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) makes schools safer. 

And what’s worse, Black students are disproportionately arrested in school, despite little to no evidence of higher rates of misbehavior. 

“I’ve seen SROs arrive at a classroom how they would arrive at a scene on the street, and they aren’t accounting for any other factors that kids present,” says Tyrell. Too often, he says, SROs jump to conclusions, instead of trying to de-escalate a situation by hearing a student’s viewpoint -- and that can perpetuate a cycle of fear and stereotypes.

Tyrell says our schools are safer when “all students feel seen and heard.” Students in crisis need social and emotional supports -- not cops -- to heal. We’re overdue for a reckoning on the role of police in schools, and with potentially drastic school budget cuts headed our way, we need to get smarter about how we use our resources. For example, this past school year, Los Angeles Unified allocated $63 million for school police, but, in an important sign of progress, the district’s school board recently voted to cut this budget by more than one-third. These funds will be reinvested in schools with the highest proportion of Black students, allowing the schools to hire more social workers, counselors, and safety aides.

You can take action now to urge more state and district leaders to invest in kids, not cops, by adding your name to this open letter.

When you talk about this issue with your friends, family, and colleagues, folks may wonder if fewer cops in schools will lead to more school violence.

That’s definitely not an outcome anyone wants. What’s key here is that research clearly shows that addressing kids’ social and emotional needs is the most effective way to stop school violence before it starts. Tyrell says he urges you to engage in conversation with other educators and examine data and research around police presence in schools.

Just like pretty much any change we try to make in our schools, it’s not going to happen overnight -- but we owe it to our students to start making progress.


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