A Path Forward from the Pain of Uvalde
As our collective pain continues from the heartbreaking tragedy in Uvalde, we hear many similar notes from policymakers about what can or should be done or how it could have been prevented. The common refrain of many is that school safety must be synonymous with school policing and school hardening (i.e., use of metal detectors, facial recognition technology, and unannounced ‘school safety audits’). We’ve heard it from the Governor, both after Santa Fe and now. Tragedy often pivots to action at the Texas Legislature, where some members of the House and Senate quickly reach to school policing as the panacea to deeper social issues. The result is that, in 2022, school policing is an expected part of the school infrastructure for millions of kids across Texas and the United States.
More and more, communities and researchers understand that there is no causal relationship between the presence of school police officers and the true safety of a school campus. In June 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on the characteristics of school shootings. The GAO concluded that, from 1999-2019, school shootings tended to occur in wealthier, whiter schools across the country. Despite this fact, research consistently yields the assessment that school police disproportionately patrol Black & Brown schools. Regardless of the school’s racial makeup, school police serve as a detriment to safety and provide no benefit to any campus. Instead, dispatching police to true life-threatening situations proves safer than a consistent police presence on school campuses.
Since last Tuesday, news reports repeatedly convey the botched police response and the subsequent refusal of local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with the Texas Department of Public Safety. This narrative comports with the circumstances of other school shootings in the past few years, like the one in Parkland, FL in 2018. For 22 years, across the twenty-first century, the same call for hardened schools has followed these horrific tragedies. In Texas, internal school police departments receive millions of dollars within the school district’s budget, like the $17 million school policing budget in Dallas ISD. Yet, school shootings continue to occur. And, where the money is most needed — funding an appropriate number of school counselors and psychologists, as well as allocating money for student-focused support services, and more — that continues to remain sorely neglected.
As we solemnly commemorated the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder last week, we see school districts across the country walking back their initial commitments to divest from their school policing budgets. We urge everyone to pause and listen to the parents and young people most frequently harmed by school policing. We need political courage. We deserve broad acknowledgments of the truth by policymakers: school policing does not secure school safety or prevent mass violence on school campuses. Texas Appleseed hopes to see robust investments in proven practices like restorative justice, multi-tiered systems of support, and compassionate mental health services in schools across Texas. Forward-thinking policymaking doesn’t start by imagining the violence that’s needed to overcome the school shooter at the door; it starts by envisioning a world in which students, families, and communities are equipped with the compassionate support they need so that a shooter never arrives.