Can A school district Claim to Be Trauma-Informed If They Employ Police? SSWNetwork Chat Transcript from June 8
Editor’s Note: what follows is an edited transcript from our LunchTime LiveChat today where we read an article from Chicago Public School teacher Dave Stieber, “We protest police in the streets, so why do we let police in our schools?” and explored the question, “can a school be truly trauma-informed if armed police are part of the daily life of the school?” Thanks for another candid and informative LiveChat from our SSWNetwork members, who hailed from at least 5 states and a variety of grade level contexts.
MONDAY, JUNE 08 SSWNetwork LiveChat
Michael Kelly11:00 amHi everybody, we’ll get started in just a sec…Today’s topic looking at this article and topic in some depth:
Michael Kelly11:01 amWe protest police in the streets, so why do we let police in our schools? Take a minute to scan it if you haven’t yet, and we’ll get started in a minute.
Michael Kelly11:02 amOk, welcome everybody to our last week of LiveChats for the semester. Let’s do a quick roll call so I know who’s on with us today, before we get into our topic…
Melanie Rice11:03 amMelanie Rice: Geneseo Community Schools: Geneseo High School
Michael Kelly11:03 amHi Melanie, good to see you again!
Melanie Rice11:03 amDitto. 🙂
Michael Kelly11:03 amI see a lot of familiar faces on today–say hi so we know you’re in the chat and not just on the overall SSWNetwork?
Stephanie Grotzky11:04 amStephanie Grotzky, NUAMES Early College High School in Ogden and Layton Utah.
Michael Kelly11:04 amStephanie G., good to see youAnybody else want to say hi?
Pitou Ireland11:05 amPitou Denver Colorado
Michael Kelly11:05 amFrom the article today: “There is a large body of research that shows that having police in schools negatively impacts student learning and makes kids feel unsafe…Yet we often brush these off as the actions of ‘one bad cop’ and fail to see the systemic connections to policing, racism, and prison. Outside of schools, politicians make the ‘one bad cop’ argument all the time and then invest millions more into failed policing and criminalization.
We ignore the fact that even though schools across the country need more resources for educating students, policing in school budgets gets hundreds of millions of dollars per year from supposedly cash-strapped states. In Chicago alone, it costs $33 million per year to have the police in our schools. We ignore demands by parents, teachers, and students for more counselors and social workers instead of cops. We ignore the trauma that the police in our schools cause our students. We ignore the fact that nationally nearly 300,000 students were arrested by police in recent school years.
Our students are being charged with crimes that would normally be handled through existing internal disciplinary policies if not for the police presence in schools. These “school crimes” include things like throwing a paper airplane, throwing a baby carrot, wearing sagging pants, and kicking a trash can. “
Michael Kelly11:07 amGood to see you again Pitou. So I just posted a lengthy excerpt from our article for today. It’s written by a Chicago Public School teacher Dave Stieber and it’s a good example of an argument against continuing to have police employed by and full-time within our schools. Take a look at that passage and be ready to respond/react to it in a minute.
Steven Friday11:07 amGood afternoon from Michigan.
Michael Kelly11:07 amBefore that though, some clarifying info from me:
Michael Kelly11:08 amWe are talking today about police who are full-time employed by school districts as SROs (student resource officers), not police who act as community-based safety patrols, or who just do the regular stuff police do when there’s violence or other disruption that might necessitate a call to the school from admin.
Michael Kelly11:10 amAnother clarifying thing: the idea of whether police can be defunded from schools is both very current and urgent to lots of communities (particularly communities of color) but this issue has been going on and been discussed for a long time now as part of a larger conversation around abolitionism (police and prisons).
Hope Bray11:10 amHope from Newtown–sorry, multitasking
Michael Kelly11:10 amThis will not be the day that we go in deep on that topic, though I’ll provide some references for people who wish to do their own reading.
Michael Kelly11:11 amWhat I’m most concerned about discussing, particularly given the uprising that continues in our country right now, is what does this group 1. think of the ideas in this article, esp. that excerpt and 2. what would you say to the question, “can a school say that it’s trauma-informed when it has armed police in its hallways?”
Michael Kelly11:12 amSo let’s take the article first–what was new about the article for you, what questions do you have?
Michael Kelly11:15 amI see some folks typing, but let’s take the time to hear from any and everyone to these first 2 questions: what did you read that was new for you (if anything) and what additional questions do you have that I or others in the chat might try to answer?
Pitou Ireland11:16 amI guess I am in the minority because I have had no issues with SROs that I have worked with. They have helped mentor students, worked with our special needs students and been a positive presence. The SROs that I have worked with have help me get students to be hospitalized for suicidal ideation when I was unable to get any assistance. I have gone with the SRO when he has heard on his radio that one of our students is having issues at home and the police were called. He would tell the dispatcher that he would handle the call. The SRO has gone on home visits with me when I have had attendance concerns for high school students.
Michael Kelly11:16 amI value that perspective Pitou, and we will definitely circle back to it as we go along today.
Michael Kelly11:17 amOthers are typing too? Keep your initial reactions to the article coming…
Michael Kelly11:19 amsorry it’s taking a bit of time for the chat to refresh…
Stephanie Grotzky11:19 amI feel it is having the right person in the right setting that makes all the difference in “trauma-informed.” I have been in three unique settings in my school social work career: a Tier III alternative school K-22 year olds who received SPED services and the director of Special Education would not put an SRO in the building. We used Ogden Police for any issues, high school with SRO’s who were assigned to the school by the city’s Chief of Police and lastly, a college campus where the officers are employed by the university. Having worked with a great deal of law enforcement personnel in my 10+ years in schools, it takes the right person in the right place.
Melanie Rice11:20 am1. 29 years ago, I started as the only social worker in the entire district. And then 9 years later, there were two. We decided that we needed more, thus, we began to collect data that admin teams might be interested in and shared with our building administrators as well as our supt. We quietly let the data do the talking and now we have 5. One in each building…..and our team is visible and valuable. Mental health supports are important in our district…and it started small…we have school nurses that collaborate with us as well as ms and hs guidance counselors. (5 in all). 2. I have had several different revolving SRO’s in our district…some ok, some good and some crossing boundaries in many ways…this past year, I was very frustrated as this SRO was running a “mini police station” in our high school, which I politely reminded him that he was a “visitor in an educational setting” and needed to understand his role…in that setting….they can be helpful in many ways..and we have had to do “well checks” on families, etc and he even helped support families with basic needs SUBSEQUENT, the conversation about understanding his value and place in a school setting.
In my years of taking “anecdotal” data, I think students of color and students who receive special education services have more often than not, had negative previous interaction with police officers and felt less safe and more suspicious of the officer in the building.
Michael Kelly11:21 amThanks everybody for these responses. I especially appreciate that you’re bringing your lived experiences as SSW to the conversation.So a question to all of you who have responded so far–what would you say your students of color and/or students with disabilities think about having SROs in their building, overall?
Michael Kelly11:22 amBecause the empirical data on this point is pretty emphatic that many youth (especially native, black and brown) report feeling LESS safe in a school that has an SRO.
Hope Bray11:23 amHonestly, I wish I could go back to my years in a very diverse alternative high school in a city and ask how students felt
Hope Bray11:24 amAt that particular school, we had one SRO who happened to be a person of color himself
Michael Kelly11:24 amI hear you Hope–I think that schools with different contexts (SES, urban/rural, racial demographics) would have very different perspectives on cops in schools.
Melanie Rice11:26 amWe are very rural…not much diversity here. However, we have had to coach each SRO about interacting with students with special needs…because they are in need of coaching in that area..and helping bridge those relationships to be positive.
Stephanie Grotzky11:26 amIn my years of taking “anecdotal” data, I think students of color and students who receive special education services have more often than not, had negative previous interaction with police officers and felt less safe and more suspicious of the officer in the building.
Steven Friday11:27 amThat’s what I’m trying to get my head around too. The students who were organizing here in Michigan after the school shootings 2 years back, at least locally, were considering adding the SROs to buildings. I wonder if this discussion and research changes their mind.
Hope Bray11:28 amI wonder if there’s a model that could emerge from many different experiences the country has had. For instance, in Newtown, we no longer have an SRO in every school (they are in MS and HS). All other schools have and armed security guard who has to be retired law enforcement. Some of them have attended my CPI class where I teacher verbal de-escalation skills and the district approved, last resort restraints. I do feel like this fits our trauma informed model while still having parents feel the comfort of an armed security guard in the schools
I think more students will be skeptical of the police presence in schools after all of the images of police brutality, just since the protests started, alone. I don’t see how a uniformed police officer can be placed in a school where students have experienced or witnessed violence or harassment and still be considered trauma informed, without an open discussion, clearly defined roles, and transparent accountability.
Michael Kelly11:28 amI’m glad you brought up your context and example Melanie–one of the most disturbing things I’ve observed first-hand and through news reports is how poor many police are with de-escalating and responding to students having mental health issues or with other disabilities. On top of that, if they’re black or brown with autism in Chicago, there are examples of those young people and young adults winding up dead after a police call.
Michael Kelly11:30 amStephanie G., your lived experience is totally borne out by the research on what black and brown youth say about police in schools.
Michael Kelly11:31 amHope yours is a great example of where I want to move the conversation before we’re done today–what “security,” policing, and trauma-informed care can learn from each other in a school context.
Melanie Rice11:31 amIt’s been awhile, maybe 3 to 4 years, but our community leaders go through “Mental Health First Aid”…which is at least an intro to different types of individuals that they may encounter which leads to different ways to interact with them….
Steven Friday11:32 amI think more students will be skeptical of the police presence in schools after all of the images of police brutality, just since the protests started, alone. I don’t see how a uniformed police officer can be placed in a school where students have experienced or witnessed violence or harassment and still be considered trauma informed, without an open discussion, clearly defined roles, and transparent accountability.
Hope Bray11:32 amWe’ve all attended Mental Health First Aid, too, Melanie, and I do think it helps give context to people
…roles must be defined for law enforcement in the school setting. Just like our roles are defined so there is clarity in service delivery.
Michael Kelly11:32 amSteven to your point–I think there is still a wide conflation of uniformed officers in schools as equalling more “security” though again that is being very much debated now (look at both Minneapolis and Portland schools which have cancelled their in-school police contracts since George Floyd’s murder)
Michael Kelly11:34 amMelanie thanks for bringing up “MH 1st Aid” in the context of this conversation. I will do some more research digging on what the impacts of that training are for uniform as well as SSW and teachers.
Stephanie Grotzky11:34 amMelanie, I love that your community leaders went through “Mental Health First Aid” and I would agree it is a good introduction about those they may come into contact with. Steven and Melanie, roles must be defined for law enforcement in the school setting. Just like our roles are defined so there is clarity in service delivery.
Hope Bray11:34 amSteven, I do like that our security guards are dressed in much more casual clothes designed in the Newtown colors as if they were on a sports team
Pitou Ireland11:35 amSorry I have little contribution to this conversation. Just wondering why SROs were brought into the schools and when. And if there was a specific reason then why do we still need them?
Melanie Rice11:35 amWe (our district) also did a Poverty Simulation and included community leaders.
Hope Bray11:35 amWow, Melanie! That’s great!
Michael Kelly11:35 amAnd that whole topic highlights one of the interesting debates that we’re going to have now: the “reform the police” group (who would push more training and better policies) vs. the “police abolitionists” who would cheer what’s about to happen in Minneapolis where they’re going to reimagine their public security force and likely replace many of their officers and most of their current policing practices for new interventions and strategies.
Melanie Rice11:36 am(remember…we are a little town, with a small rural population…and our community trusts the school to do a lot) Friday Night Lights? Yeah, that’s us…
Michael Kelly11:36 amlol Melanie
For instance, in Newtown, we no longer have an SRO in every school (they are in MS and HS). All other schools have and armed security guard who has to be retired law enforcement. Some of them have attended my CPI class where I teacher verbal de-escalation skills and the district approved, last resort restraints. I do feel like this fits our trauma informed model while still having parents feel the comfort of an armed security guard in the schools
Hope Bray11:37 amWhen I teach CPI I try to do activities with the adults that help them get into the mindset of a child who is breaking the rules. I have everyone give me the reasons they speed (after at least some of the group admits that they do). I make the list of the motivations/excuses and then add the heading at the top “why students misbehave” so they can see how much they have in common with our students
Michael Kelly11:38 amlink to a recent police reform argument: https://www.vox.com/2020/6/5/21280402/8-cant-wait-explain…
Hope Bray11:39 amWhen the security force works for the district (armed of not), the district gets to set requirements for their training and evaluation and hiring. I think that’s important
Michael Kelly11:39 ampolice abolition links: https://www.themarshallproject.org/records/3382-police-ab…
Michael Kelly11:40 amanother essay on police abolition: https://bostonreview.net/law-justice/derecka-purnell-what…
Michael Kelly11:41 amHope, the key to me is when security staff “works for the district” vs. being employed from the existing police department: different rules, different mechanisms for hiring, etc.
Michael Kelly11:42 amSo back to my earlier question: can a school that has armed police in its schools claim to be trauma-informed?
Hope Bray11:42 amThat is the key to me, too. That way we get to dress them up like they’re going out for a round of golf, too :)I think I’ve now arrived at an answer of it’s not likely
Steven Friday11:43 amI doubt it’s possible without a lot of community work up front.
Michael Kelly11:43 amWhat’s interesting with the question the way I was initially asked it (and am passing on to you) is that it really has a very necessary follow-up: based on whose perspective?
Pitou Ireland11:43 amI wonder if students who feel unsafe in general feel more reassured with armed police in the building? Would that be trauma informed
Pitou Ireland11:45 amcould the perspective come from the community members, school staff, families and students?
Hope Bray11:45 amI guess we also have to pick apart our definition of trauma informed in order to answer
Michael Kelly11:45 amit’s a good question to explore next year with your students, Pitou. Based on a lot of quant and qual data over the past 20 years, many students who live in neighborhoods & homes with high levels of violence are saying emphatically, “no.”
Hope Bray11:46 amI mean trauma informed doesn’t necessarily mean not having anything or anyone present in a building who will trigger a person’s trauma–to your point Pitou about some children feeling a safety from officers
Michael Kelly11:46 amand yes, I was getting at with my “whose perspective?” comment that an SRO may be perceived totally differently by a student with ADHD, a Black student and her group of friends, a mostly white and female teaching staff, and a principal.
Pitou Ireland11:46 amThank you Michael, I guess Denver residents will need to let the districts know their concerns. I haven’t heard.
Pitou Ireland11:47 amThanks Hope
Melanie Rice11:48 amI don’t know. Relationships will need to be strong and trusting…but armed? I don’t mind that they are, but I am the adult in the building that is concerned about “safety” in my adult brain…kid brains are oh so different..AND I grew up in a Friday Night Lights sort of place, and now work in a place similar. I know that my little town experience would not make me a good social worker in a big town place. It’s all about perspective. That’s why we implemented the Human Library last year…to give kids access to “different ways of thinking”…since we pretty much have “one or two” ways of thinking…..
Michael Kelly11:48 amI like Hope of your idea here that if we really explore what being “trauma-informed” means we’ll have to do a lot of prep work and listening to stakeholders about what they think will help them feel safer at school. This will obviously extend to our current anxieties about what “re-opening” schools means in the Fall during the pandemic.
Hope Bray11:48 amI think more and more that whether or not an adult in our buildings works for the district makes a huge different. If the district is not in charge of mandating training, a huge element of the promotion of being trauma informed is lost
Pitou Ireland11:50 amThat would be another good topic to discuss what does trauma informed mean for urban, rural and suburban schools.
Michael Kelly11:50 amI think that’s a really important take-away Hope from today’s conversation. And let’s be real: part of what’s happening right now with the (many) video documents of police brutality is that police departments and their unions are not that interested in having oversight of their activities vs. what a school might require of their security officers.
I like the idea here that if we really explore what being “trauma-informed” means we’ll have to do a lot of prep work and listening to stakeholders about what they think will help them feel safer at school. This will obviously extend to our current anxieties about what “re-opening” schools means in the Fall during the pandemic.
Hope Bray11:51 amAbsolutely Pitou! Some of your students may only have ever really encountered police in school?
Michael Kelly11:52 amWe have a few more minutes today, if people have any final comments or ideas to share.
Pitou Ireland11:52 amThat is true Hope. Although there are many who have had the police come to their homes, and have had encounters in the community which may have had a negative impact.
Hope Bray11:53 amOf course!
Michael Kelly11:54 amOk, we’re winding up for today. Thanks everybody for the ideas and sharing today, great to talk with all of you today!
Hope Bray11:54 amYou, too! Thank you everyone!