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Use of force in schools stirs up controversy, concerns, and alarming data

(Courtesy of Solutions Not Suspensions MN)

On Thursday, educators and concerned parents gathered at the State Capitol to voice their support for a new law that limits the use of certain physical restraints on students.

The law states that adults can only use restraining holds that “impair a child’s ability to breathe or communicate distress” if it’s to prevent bodily harm or death.

The law inspired several police departments across the state to pull out of their School Resource Officer contracts in several Minnesota school districts, stating that the law is too limiting, or that they fear increased lawsuits against officers. Now Minnesota Republicans are calling for a special session to repeal the law.

St. Paul Public School Educator and Board Member Chauntyll Allen says she is surprised by the resistance to this bill. She says, considering the progressive nature of the state, and with the impact of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer, she thought the bill would be seen as a necessary step toward improved public health and safety.

“The fact that they're actually pulling out of their contracts because they don't have the ability to put hands on children who are not causing imminent danger in the moment, tells me that their training has not changed.”

In truth, SROs can physically restrain a child under the new law, as long as it doesn’t affect the student’s ability to breathe or speak.

Allen says she believes the use of force by officers in schools is setting the example that violence is the answer to conflict.

Also at the protest was Jamie Utt-Schumacher, an Educational Researcher with a PhD that focuses on Education Policy. Utt-Shumacher spent two years conducting research on the impact of School Resource Officers.

“Police officers in schools result in significant increases in arrests and criminal citations, even for minor offenses that in other contexts would have been handled by the school in some form or fashion,” said Utt-Shumacher. “Police result in increased suspensions and expulsions. And to those who argue that police make schools safer, they actually result in increased rates of violence.”

Utt-Shumacher says that when police are in schools, graduation rates drop, as do college attendance rates particularly for Black and brown youth.

“I think one of the important narratives that you see in the research literature is that all students, including white students, are negatively impacted by police in schools.”

Utt-Shumacher dedicated two years to conducting his own research on the impact of SROs on more than 415,000 students in more than 200 schools in four major metropolitan areas. He compared the results between schools that had SROs and those that didn’t across racial demographics, as well as age groups. He also examined whether multiple SROs made a difference compared to one. He says what he found was alarming.

“What I found was that the presence of officers is associated with large reductions in math and English standardized test scores for all students. But it's disproportionately large in effect for Black and Latino students. And then I also found that there were significant increases in the likelihood that all students would be suspended as you add police officers to school. But this is especially true for Black and Latino students. My dataset only focused on white, Black, and Latino students because there weren't enough Indigenous students in the schools for me to include them in the sample.”

Utt-Shumacher says he knows his data doesn’t fully convey the impact of SROs in schools. He says studying the police presence was extremely difficult due to the lack of laws in place to hold SROs accountable. He says if trust is ever going to be built with police presence – not only in schools, but in the general public – then legislation needs to pass that requires them to be more easily studied.

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