For decades, students with disabilities have been disproportionately subjected to the harshest and most exclusionary discipline in schools, including suspensions, expulsions, restraint, seclusion, referrals to law enforcement, and school-related arrests.
Black students with disabilities experience these forms of discipline even more frequently. In 2017-18, 29% of students with disabilities were subjected to some form of disciplinary removal. For Black students with disabilities, that number was a stunning 65%.
When police are present in schools, arrest rates show comparably disturbing disproportionality. In one study, schools without police had an average arrest rate for students with disabilities of 17 per 10,000 students, while schools with police had an average arrest rate for these students that was three times as high, at 51 per 10,000 students. As a result, students with disabilities enter the school to prison pipeline at a higher rate, and our most at-risk students consistently experience unacceptable levels of trauma, lost instructional time, harm to positive relationships with school personnel and law enforcement, criminalization, and, in the worst scenarios, actual physical harm.
Given these disturbing facts, the lack of data to support the efficacy of having police in schools, and the role that sworn law enforcement personnel often play in these situations, the Center:
- Believes that districts and schools must ensure that all students and school personnel experience a safe and positive learning environment. Where there are concerns about external threats to the safety of students and school personnel, local stakeholders (e.g. parents, school boards, and local law enforcement agencies) should partner with schools to address those concerns without defaulting to the placement of sworn law enforcement officers, including school resource officers, in schools.
- Believes that the hiring, recruitment, and placement of police officers, including school resource officers, in K-12 educational institutions is inappropriate and fosters a threatening and discriminatory environment, especially for students of color and students with disabilities.
- Encourages schools to invest their already limited resources in evidence-based and holistic approaches to school culture and behavior rather than in the presence of law enforcement in schools.
- Encourages federal, state, and local policymakers to provide financial support to schools and districts as they transition to positive approaches to discipline.
- Encourages districts and schools to routinely examine their school climate and culture to ensure that their procedures for protecting the safety of students and personnel do not come at the expense of criminalization of any student in their care.
Districts and schools must work to remove barriers that prevent students, particularly students with disabilities, Black students, and students from other marginalized communities, from accessing quality educational opportunities in safe and supportive environments. The Center calls upon districts and schools to commit to effective evidence-based, positive, and equitable practices that are essential to ensuring student success.