A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Placing armed guards in schools around the country is just one idea contained in proposed gun legislation. Diane and guests discuss the effects on students and teachers.
- Lucinda Roy Alumni and distinguished professor, Virginia Tech. She was Chair of English at Virginia Tech from 2002-2006. Her most recent book is "No Right to Remain Silent: What We’ve Learned from the Tragedy at Virginia Tech, published by Random House."
- Judith Browne Dianis Co-director, Advancement Project.
- Mo Canady Executive director, National Association of School Resource Officers.
- Gregory Thomas Former executive director of school safety, New York City Public Schools.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In the 1970s, there were fewer than 100 police officers in schools nationwide. Today, estimates put that number at 10,000. Here with me to talk about the growing presence of armed police in schools: Lucinda Roy, professor at Virginia Tech, Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project, joining us from the NPR studios in New York City, Gregory Thomas, former executive director of school safety for the New York City Public Schools, and, joining us by phone from Birmingham, Ala., Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you will want to join our conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
PROF. LUCINDA ROYGood morning.
MS. JUDITH BROWNE DIANISGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all here. Judith, if I could start with you, we've seen, as I said, this increase in armed police at schools around the country. What are you concerns about this?
DIANISSure. Thank you for having me.
DIANISFirst, you know, we -- safety is a priority for our schools, for our children. But we have to really take a measured approach at school safety, which is holistic, which insures that we have a balance between safety and a nurturing learning environment. Our concern is that for years, Advancement Project has been working on issues of school discipline and what has now become called the school-to-prison pipeline. We know that there are thousands of children every year who are arrested in schools by the officers who are there to protect them and usually for very minor conduct.
DIANISSo, for example, we know that there have been kids as young as 5 arrested in schools for temper tantrums and charged with disorderly conduct, sometimes assault on a teacher because they were acting out and having a temper tantrum, children who have doodled on a desk being arrested. And so, unfortunately, too often, we see that the police officers who are in schools are becoming the other arm of discipline in our schools. So what used to wind you up in the principal's office now gets you put in handcuffs, taken off to the jailhouse and then to the courthouse.
REHMGregory Thomas, do you think more armed police is the proper response?
MR. GREGORY THOMASOh, no, not at all. Now, let me first, again, say thank you for having me, too. I have to say in the main -- I don't know of a school in the country that I visited that is safer because of a armed police officer in the school. And if it is safer is because their part of a, as Judith mentioned, a holistic approach to keeping the school safe which really started the principal and his or her staff being the lead charge in that area. So when you default to having whether it'd be armed security or anybody who's in the building security alike as your sole source of invoking discipline, then that's where problems go awry.
MR. GREGORY THOMASSo I have to agree that you have to be careful with the referrals that go to police in the first place. I mean, them in a school by themselves doesn't necessarily mean that every kid will be arrested or there'll be more kids arrested. But the chances rise with discipline's not done in a progressive way where people who are in the educational world are not using police services for their source of security.
REHMMo Canady, I'm interested in the difference between school resource officers and the armed police. You are the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. Explain the difference.
MR. MO CANADYWell, and thank you for having me this morning. And I will tell you, there are really two ways to do this policing in school situation: the wrong way and the right way. And the school resource officer approach is definitely the right way. When you talk about a school resource officer or an SRO, you're talking about an individual that is properly selected to work in that environment. In other words, they have the right temperament to work in that environment.
MR. MO CANADYAnd, secondly, they're properly trained how to work in a school environment. And one of the things about that training -- we've been doing this for a little over 23 years right now. And one of the messages that we provide very loudly and very clearly in our training is that law enforcement should not have a role in a school discipline. That's not why we're there. And so I think that's an important message for us to get across.
REHMAnd, Lucinda Roy, how do you feel about it?
ROYI think that it's a very complicated issue. I think that school resource officers often can be a good idea in schools if, indeed, as Judith has said and as Gregory has said, and Mo, I think, has tried to support that idea too that why everyone needs to be really student centered, needs to understand something about the education community because what we're seeing is a clash of two very different cultures.
ROYWe have the culture of teaching, which is meant to be nurturing to students and very supportive, and then we have the culture of law enforcement, and that's a very different thing. And, of course, we want security in our schools. What we don't want to do is put at-risk students even more at risk. And sometimes, that can happen if it's not handled with tremendous care.
ROYAnd I guess what I worry about most -- and I have spoken very forthrightly for a long time about the need for more security in schools. I really do believe that that's important on our campuses. But I think it has to be handled with tremendous care, and I think that sometimes we are rushing forward with solutions that end up creating a lot of problems that we hadn't anticipated.
REHMBut when you talk about more security, are you speaking of armed security?
ROYI think that almost every school in America pretty soon will have armed security. And I think -- that's a terrible thing to have to say, by the way, but I think that it's going to happen. And I think it's going to happen because as you said so while at the beginning, there are now 10,000 law enforcement officers that are involved in schooling already.
ROYAnd what principal and what president of a university is going to be able to say I don't need it? I think it's going to be extremely difficult after Virginia Tech, the kinds of things we suffered in Blacksburg, the kinds of things that people suffered at Sandy Hook. I think for liability purposes, there probably are going to have to be more armed people in schools.
ROYI have to tell you, I don't think that that's a wonderful solution at all. But I do understand why administrators across the country are really very, very worried about this and do have to weigh some of the pros and cons. There are benefits, but there are also some really great risks we're taking with our children that we need to be very careful off.
REHMJudith, you spoke earlier about this school-to-prison pipeline. Spell that out.
DIANISSure. The school-to-prison pipeline basically is two parts. One is that in schools, we see often that discipline is being -- is very harsh discipline. That started off with the term zero tolerance being used to push young people out of schools.
DIANISSo we're not seeing young people learning from their misbehavior and not given health and resources but instead getting out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, things that lead -- we know that the more that you suspend a student, the more likely they are to drop out, the more likely they are to wind up in the juvenile justice system, the more likely they are to wind up living in poverty.
REHMAnd are you saying that that can occur either with school resource officers or armed police officers?
DIANISYes, yes, yes. So, for example, in the state of Florida, we see both school resource officers and armed police officers arresting young people in schools. There's over 17,000 students being arrested in schools in the state of Florida every year. Over two-thirds of those are for misdemeanors. Most of those are for disorderly conduct charges.
DIANISAnd so we know that they sometimes cross the line and, as Lucinda said, that often it's the culture of, if I'm a law enforcement officer, I am here to enforce the code, the criminal code. I'm not here to teach young people. And often, that line gets blurred, and that's where we have a problem.
REHMMo Canady, your response.
CANADYWell, first of all, I think we're talking about a couple of different things here. Judith mentioned expulsions and suspensions. Law enforcement should have no role whatsoever in suspensions or expulsions. That's a school matter. Secondly, regarding the arrests, that speaks to the importance of training and, again, being the right person in that role that truly cares about youth and wants to help make a difference in their lives. So that's why this training piece is so important because, as I mentioned earlier, you can do it the wrong way or you can do it the right way.
REHMBut, Mo, you said they should not have that authority. But do they?
CANADYIn expulsions and suspensions, I can't see how they do other than maybe if they're suggesting it strongly to an administrator, which they should not be doing. Again, that is clearly a role for school administration.
DIANISWell, can I just...
DIANISI didn't mean that officers are involved in suspensions and expulsions. But often, they are involved in the same incident that arose that led to the suspension. The young person is being arrested for it. And so what, you know, becomes a disorderly conduct is the temper tantrum of a 5-year-old where a police officer decided that there should be an arrest with handcuffs.
DIANISThere was a young girl in Florida who was 5 years old, handcuffed and arrested and then shackled at her ankles and put in the back of a police cruiser for a temper tantrum, a 6-year-old in Georgia. And so at some point, it's the same act that was -- received harsh discipline becomes the arrest.
REHMJudith Browne Dianis, she is co-director of the Advancement Project. That is a civil rights organization. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about placing school resource officers or armed police officers in classrooms around the country. That was one of the proposals of the National Rifle Association. Here with me in the studio: Judith Browne Dianis, she's co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization. Lucinda Roy is alumni, distinguished professor at Virginia Tech. Her most recent book is titled "No Right to Remain Silent: What We've Learned from the Tragedy at Virginia Tech."
REHMFrom the NPR studios, Greg Thomas, former executive director of school safety for the New York City Public Schools, and, from Birmingham, Ala., Mo Canady, he is executive director of National Association of School Resource Officers. Gregory, if you would, bring us up-to-date on what's happening on Capitol Hill and especially the National Rifle Association's proposal and the White House plan that is analogous.
THOMASWell, let me just say that in general sense, Sandy Hook, there's been a series of what I call spontaneous utterances towards what they think it's solved challenges that that school faced on that day, which is really unique and unfortunately an aberration. But much of what's happening now, as you mentioned, NRA, their first discussion was around putting an armed person at the school, particularly at their front door, I guess, to thwart this kind of event. And now it's been moved more towards a armed person in general. And I have to agree with Mo's comments about that armed person.
THOMASIt's going to be person at all on your school, and that's going to be up to the school to make that choice. I would need to make sure that person is the right person and trained properly because law enforcement in the 1990s faced a similar problem when there was more hiring done to address the crack epidemic. A lot of cops were being hired around the country but hired quickly and not done, you know, the right way with the right kind of training. So I'm concerned about that happening here too. So -- and some I also want to say to the entire conversation about the school-to-prison pipeline.
THOMASI travel the country often enough, talking to schools about the need to have a positive school climate and a positive school culture, which would reduce the chances that events would occur in a school that might result in law enforcement responses or things that are heavily disciplined or need for discipline. So I think the real challenge is for us to get schools to get better at what they do when it comes down to keeping students focused on learning and having the appropriate consequences before a behavior like the ones we're talking about, in fact, occur.
REHMBut, Mo, talk about exactly the responsibilities of a school resource officer. Who pays for them? How do they get trained? What do they actually do?
CANADYSorry. The very first thing that should happen is that the school district and the law enforcement agency would become engaged with a memorandum of understanding that clearly lays out how this program is going to work. So that's very important that that takes place. We train the SROs to work on at what we call an SRO triad concept, and that is that, of course, law enforcement is at their foundation.
CANADYBut they're also involved in mentoring, and they're also involved in education. In other words, they may spend time in the classroom conducting classes for students, teaching them about the laws maybe of their state or a number of other law-related education issues.
REHMBut do you believe that right alongside that school resource officer should be an armed police officer as well?
CANADYWell, the school resource officer is actually, you know, a sworn law enforcement officer. They should already be armed because they are a sworn law enforcement officer. But they become much more than just an armed guard. I know we hear that phrase a lot, and I get concerned about that phrase. But an SRO is a sworn law enforcement officer especially trained to work in a school environment.
REHMAnd, Gregory, how effective is an armed school resource officer? Do they increase safety?
THOMASI would say so. I mean, you know, there's enough studies out there that show that they can and, you know, the engagement with them and students over time is their ability to hear about information about, you know, pending fights or people who have weapons. Those kind of things like that can go a long way to make a school safer, but again, I want to circle back to the fact that I think Mo would agree to. An armed officer, whether it be from the local police department or SRO themselves -- by themselves, should not be the main factor to keep a school safe.
THOMASIt has to be a holistic approach where everybody has a focus on safety. And that starts with the students, too. He has to be stakeholder, approach where they understand their role in schools and what they're in school for. And when we see failures of that, then it starts rippling towards the things lead to misbehavior and fights in schools and weapon possession, things like that that then, unfortunately, if a person who's armed in a building has to involve themselves in.
REHMLucinda, you're shaking your head.
ROYIn many ways, I feel as though I'm in the middle of this debate. I actually think that there are times when school resource officers are very important and very helpful. And if they're well trained, then they can be a huge benefit to a school. In the recent New York Times article by Erik Eckholm, one of the points that he made at the end of this article is that in one school -- and I think it's for a high school outside of Houston -- then the school resource officers really do a wonderful job. He -- because they understand the culture and they really work with the teachers, so...
REHMSo what happened in that case?
ROYIn that case -- they've came from the same background as the students. What happens, though, is if you introduced this huge difference, this outside force that comes in and is going to enforce the law, then, of course, you're going to have problems. I think one of the things we need to remember is that those of us on the left tend to demonize law enforcement and idolize students. Those of us on the right tend to idolize law enforcement and demonize students. And so it's an exact opposite.
ROYWe're kind of mirror opposites of each other to some extent. The truth is somewhere in the middle. And I'd have to call attention actually, Mo, to what you say when you keep saying there's a right way and a wrong way. In fact, there are many right ways and many wrong ways, which is why we keep messing up because you have to handle students very differently than the way you would handle other people.
REHMBut are you concerned that either police officers or school resource officers do not have the kind of training they need?
ROYI think it can take years to be trained well to work with students. I've been teaching for over 30 years, and I'm still learning and I still make errors. That doesn't mean that we have to try and put people through 30 years of training. I mean, that would be ludicrous. But we do need to come up with more comprehensive kinds of training.
ROYI actually think NASRO, the National Association of School Resource Officers has some really good kind of training programs. I don't think that they're extensive enough, but I do think that they are heading in the right direction. But we must be so mindful of at-risk students. They can be more at risk in this kind of environment than they would be in an environment that did not include armed police officers.
REHMSo you're saying there would have to be a lot of closed communication between teachers and the officers?
ROYThat's exactly right. And, you know, what I think is happening, though, we have completely undermined teaching in this country. We've started to de-professionalize the teacher. In colleges and universities, we have so many adjuncts now. Not at Virginia Tech, I'm glad to say, but in many other institutions...
REHMWho just come on.
ROY...so many adjuncts who are wonderful teachers, by the way, but are being totally exploited. They're not brought in to the conversation in ways that ought to be. How do they know how to report a troubled student? They may not even see him often. So we really need to think very carefully about making sure that teachers are part of this conversation. They have not been in the past. And I think that's dangerous.
DIANISYes. So I think -- so it's important to know that this holistic approach to safety that Advancement Project has put forth, in our report, a real fix, the gun-free ways -- way to school safety is based on the need for strong relationships between young people and adults. Often, that doesn't come in the way of a person with a gun and a badge. In many communities, there's total distrust because of years of poor relationships with the police, that having a police officer in the school makes the environment feel more like a prison than a learning environment.
DIANISAnd so what we've been advocating for is -- first of all, yes, we do need to have -- secure our buildings. For example, many school buildings don't have locks on their doors, don't have buzzers, don't have those kinds of things that would keep out the intruder. Two is, every time we have a school shooting in this country, we never get to the hard work, the long-term work of reducing violence.
DIANISWe need counselors and psychologists in our schools that form those relationships with young people. We need proven programs around conflict resolution to get young people to understand how to manage conflict. And that will get us towards violence reduction over the long haul.
DIANISAnd we have budget -- we have priorities. We have to -- we're going to have to pick and choose about how we spend our money because we know our schools don't have money. And so it's interesting to see school districts across the country all of a sudden finding millions of dollars to put police in the schools. But our children don't have books, don't have art, don't have music, don't have all of the things that we know they need for a sound education.
REHMAnd yet, Mo Canady, it would seem that the shooter in Newtown forced his way in. Despite the fact that doors could have been totally locked down, he managed to get in. Are you going to propose having an armed school resource officer at every entrance, ready to defend that school? How do you see that?
CANADYNo, we're not going to propose that. We're not even proposing that there be police officers in every school in America. But what we are saying is that any school that wants to have an SRO could certainly benefit from it, again if it's done the right way. You know, I don't know how long we could go on with 98,000 school buildings in America having an armed guard standing at the entrance.
CANADYMost schools are never going to experience an active shooter situation as Sandy Hook did. But they are going to experience ongoing things on a daily basis such as someone bringing a weapon in the school, or someone bringing drugs in the school, or students, you know, needing that positive role model in their lives. And I think it is -- I'd like to respond to something that Judith was saying.
CANADYI also have been to communities where the community relationship with the police is not good. But I've also been to many communities -- my community included -- where the relationship between the community and the law enforcement agency is a very good one because community-based policing strategies are put into place, and those work when they're done right.
REHMMo Canady, he's executive director at the National Association of School Resource Officers. We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, first to Dania Beach, Fla. Anne, you're on the air.
ANNEThank you. God bless you, Diane. The issue regarding school violence going to the level of guns is horrific. But we're facing school violence daily, our students, with rape. Going to the school resource officer would be your first response. Once that student is -- exposes the horrible violent act that happened to them, it doesn't get reported to law enforcement. The school is trying to protect their own reputation. Therefore, the victims start becoming then more victimized by the internal school resource officers and principals and the authorities there at the school.
REHMAnd, of course, Anne is talking about rape as opposed to gun violence and the need for the school to protect itself. Lucinda, how do you see that?
ROYI do think she brings up a good issue. I think that Anne does make an important point about the ways in which we respond to violation, and, unfortunately, we still haven't got very good positive communication. We still don't have particularly well-trained teachers. We still don't have particularly well-trained teachers, particularly in colleges and universities.
ROYMost of us don't have to have any kind of formal teaching training at all. Some of us do, but a lot don't. We need to really think about that because the administrators who will be handling some of those complaints, therefore, don't necessarily have the kind of background that they need to have.
REHMAll right. To Charlottesville, Va., and to Lee. Good morning.
LEEGood morning, Diane. Thanks for hearing my call. My comment is based on my involvement with Virginia21, which is a student-based organization that campaigns and lobbies for higher education funding. I find it appalling that we're finding all of this money, all these dollars, to bring guns and officers into schools, but yet we're in a climate where we just keep cutting education funding. Why is it suddenly such a priority to bring these inanimate objects or these people that have already been through the education system into the education system in place of students?
THOMASWell, I'll tell you my thoughts. I actually agree with him too. I've sat back and watched, as I mentioned before, all these reactions that have happened since Sandy Hook, and I haven't found one yet that is the perfect elixir for this. So we have to be careful that we don't just think that, by themselves, that an armed police officer in a school could have stopped this kind of event.
THOMASAnd there are studies that show that, evidence-based studies that show that after the rush of school shootings in the '90s, when the U.S. Department of Education, the Secret Service did a study on school shootings, they found that, in the main, many of these shootings wouldn't have been stopped by law enforcement. We have to be careful we don't just, again, put a fell -- one fell swoop over the solution for this. It's holistic, as mentioned before, and it has to take time and be comprehensive.
DIANISWell, I think we also -- you know, it is the quick response. It's the Band-Aid. It's the thing that we can do that gives us all the feeling, the feel-good of safety, so we think. And that's what I was saying, is we never get to, when we start putting up money, we never get to those long-term solutions. Where's more money for the counselors, who could have actually -- who could actually form a relationship with young people who are having trouble, like the young woman who's been raped or another person who's going through something?
DIANISWe don't spend and put a priority on those kinds of relationships that young people need to have. Instead, we think it should be the police officer to give us safety.
REHMBut at the same time, the young man, Adam Lanza, who did the shooting in Newtown, was not inside that school, Lucinda.
ROYHe was not inside that school, and he got inside the school and did tremendous harm. I guess -- I'm really speaking from having been through something very similar myself, having worked with Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter at Virginia Tech and having found, I have to say, that some of the people who listened best to what was going on were the campus police. They did, actually, understand something about how difficult it can be to deal with troubled students. So there are times when sympathetic, well-trained police officers can be enormously helpful.
REHMLucinda Roy, she's at Virginia Tech. Her most recent book, "No Right to Remain Silent." And we'll take a short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about various ways that people believe school safety can be provided and one of those is through school resource officers. Mo Canady, I asked you earlier about the training for these officers. And exactly where they come from, how were they recruited and what kind of background checking is done on them?
CANADYWell, most school resource officers are recruited from within their department. They're typically veteran officers which is…
REHMYou mean police officers?
CANADYYes, police officers. You know, the -- an SRO, for instance, is an assignment within the department just as, say, being an investigator or something along those lines. The SRO is part of an assignment.
REHMAnd how much are they paid? Are they paid on a par with their work as police officers, or how is that determined?
CANADYIn most instances, the rate of pay does not change. They continue to be paid by the law enforcement agency. In some instances, when the MOUs are put together, there are some school districts that will reimburse some of that salary but typically not all of it, typically no more than half.
REHMSo what you're saying is that the police forces themselves are bearing at least half the cost.
CANADYIn most instances, at least half the cost and sometimes the full cost.
REHMJudith, is there a difference between urban and suburban and a racial factor here?
DIANISDefinitely. So we see that in the work that we've been doing that often when we have these school shootings, the brunt of the policing and the prison-like environment that gets built afterwards actually is in the urban schools. We see it in some suburban schools, but usually it's the metal detectors, the surveillance cameras, police officers, more than one that usually get, you know, placed in those urban areas.
DIANISWe also know that when we start looking at the data around school-based arrests, even those for disorderly conduct and very minor things that it's usually children of color, usually black and Latino children, usually disproportionately male, who are getting those arrests. So we know that we are starting young people off at a very young age giving them a record, putting them in the system.
REHMLucinda Roy, what was the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting in terms of what the university decided to do?
ROYWell, they decided to do a number of things, and one of the first things that they did was try to establish a threat assessment team, and that's what they've done. And it actually has some really wonderful people on it. Gene Deisinger heads the threat assessment team at the V-Tech.
REHMAnd how is that done?
ROYAnd so it's a group of people who get together. And if you're concerned about a student, you report your concerns to that team, and the team then evaluates in a kind of really holistic way. Judith, I think, too, it's important to address what you were saying to try to find that whether there does seem to be a potential threat, whether or not the student is a danger to himself or others.
REHMBut what about security itself?
ROYAnd as far as security went, we always had a campus police force. It was understaffed. We actually had six fewer police officers than we should've had at the time of the shootings, and now it's fully staffed as far as I know. And I think that, of course, all throughout the country, there's been a much greater attention, I think, to training people to make sure that they do know how to report things.
ROYI have to say, however, the weak link often is the teachers in many ways. Not that we're not trying, but very often, if teachers don't have any training to identify students who are in trouble, then it can be really problematic which is why it's wonderful to see some of the new mental health proposals that I think will be passed. And it looks as though it has a lot of bipartisan support particularly the National Center for Campus Public Safety, I think, that that will help a great deal in the future.
REHMAll right. To St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Larry.
LARRYYes. I'm calling in reference. I'm a father of four and a former police officer, and I was wondering what the outcome of these arrests, of these children in the, you know, in 5- to 6-years old 'cause I can't imagine with the temper tantrum the parents were throwing when they had to go pick their 5-year-old child up with handcuffs on.
DIANISRight. So in some of these cases, actually two of the one in the five-year-old that I talked about, she actually was charged with disorderly conduct. A judge actually threw that out. Another case, because of media attention, was thrown out, but often we see these young people for very minor conducts actually having to go to juvenile courts. In fact, in The New York Times article, there were a number of judges who were quoted as saying that their office -- their courtrooms are becoming the principal's office and that they're tired of it.
DIANISAnd too often, young people get put on probation which becomes a cycle in and cycle out system for them in the juvenile justice system because if you're late to school or if you miss the day of school, that's an unexcused absence, you have to go back to court. And so that, you know, it sets up this system for young people to just continue to funnel in and funnel out of the pipeline.
REHMAll right. To Jason in Norwich, N.Y. Good morning, Jason.
JASONGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
JASONI just wanted to ask your panelists what they thought about the role of the SRO beyond just law enforcement capabilities. There's so many other requirements being placed on school districts. One example would be DASA, the Dignity for All Students Act. And the SRO actually is able to carry out a lot of functions that normally would have to be performed by administrators. And the administrators and teachers seemed to be tied up with a lot of their own issues on their own, but having the SRO on the building is also they're able to do many other things.
JASONI'm also a school board member for a rural -- a small rural school district, and our police response can take up to 10, 15 or 20 minutes. So we're actually putting a resolution next month out to a public to hire and staff an SRO position just to have the extra added security and also to have them perform some of the functions that administrators would normally have to perform.
CANADYWell, as I had mentioned, we train SROs in a triad concept -- law enforcement just being one of those roles, the others being mentoring and then also education, where the SRO is able to come into a classroom and to be able to spend some time educating students, as I mentioned earlier, on the laws of their state, for instance. There's also educational opportunities in dealing with things like drunk driving, distracted driving. So those are some of the things that SROs can also be involved in -- just a few.
REHMMo, here's an email from Judie in Madison, Va., who says, "My recollection of the origin of the school police resource officer was for the purpose of drug education and enforcement. Can you clarify the history here?"
CANADYYes. That came around in the 1980s, but the school police or SROs have actually been around since the 1950s, just not in the numbers that they are now. But certainly during the '80s, the DARE program was very popular among elementary schools across the country, and that did bring a lot of officers in the school environment to teach that particular program.
REHMAnd, Greg, here's a question for you from Janet in Baltimore, who says, "I'm concerned not only with the school-to-jail pipeline, but that by seeing armed security guards in their schools, children get the message that 'guns are good, guns make you powerful.' It reminds me of the Joe Camel campaigns marketing cigarettes to children." What are your thoughts, Greg?
THOMASOh, I have to agree with her, too. I'll tell you, I'm on record for not having anybody in uniform, in handcuffs, with guns in schools. That's just my vision, right? I mean, that -- if I had my druthers, it would be that way. But, unfortunately, it's not going to be that way shortly or for this period of time. We're talking about now because over time, the evolution has gotten to this point where there's a need for security in schools in some shape or form.
THOMASAnd again, having been in charge in New York City schools and traveling the country a lot since -- and I've been at some where there are troubled students and students are having challenges. So in some cases, security is needed, but the question is, you know, how are they being used?
THOMASAnd that's why I want to go back to the point about having principals be the captain of this ship and get involved in developing a positive school climate where everybody who's in the school, whether it be security or police officers, are on the same page about what is right and what is wrong and what is discipline and what is not.
REHMAll right. To Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi there, Laurie.
LAURIEHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
LAURIEI think many of the panelist had already touched upon my point, but I want to take it a little bit deeper. A lot of this is just a Band-Aid. More money needs to be put into mental health, which I think was addressed. But if you go even beyond that, a lot of it can be traced back to No Child Left Behind. Teachers, administrators has to adhere to certain requirements -- graduation rates, attendance rates. So what happens is you have an administrator who gets a child referred to them by a teacher.
LAURIEThe teacher tells the administrator or the resource officer that the student threatened them. The student was engaging in inappropriate behavior in the classroom. What happens is nothing. They end up back in the classroom the next day, and then the teacher has to deal with that on their own. And also one more quick point. The PTO -- the PTA needs to be more involve to get the parents involve to get the word out. It has to be a group effort.
DIANISYes. So one thing we do know in that last point is we do need more parents and volunteers in school because as we talked about, you know, building the relationships with young people, we need just more presence of adults in our schools. To get to your point about No Child Left Behind, actually what's interesting is that we have found in many schools the exact opposite. That, in fact, because of the kind of requirements under No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing that often the easiest thing to do with a child who's acting out is to get them out of the classroom.
DIANISBecause if you get them out of the classroom and they're a kid who is on the border of perhaps failing the test, that it provides this perverse incentive to push those children out who are academically behind because we need to get them out so that the others so-called can learn or the others can actually exceed. And so part of the problem is that we're finding that there is kind of this incentive to dispose of children who are academically behind because we have to make our annual yearly progress in our schools.
REHMSo what are you saying?
DIANISSo, for example, I saw a -- there was a memo published in a Florida newspaper a few years ago from a principal who wanted to get the names of all children with behavioral problems a list of them. And she actually said, because we need to get them out of the schools so our test scores could go up. So we really are creating a place where we have haves and have-nots, disposable children all around making sure that we can show some level of accountability, but we're not showing level of accountability for all of the children.
ROYBut, you know, the other thing we need to remember, sometimes if you're a teacher -- and I know there are lot of teachers out there listening to this -- and you're standing in front of a class, and you have students who are incredibly rude and incredibly disruptive, and those of us who have taught have definitely see those students, and you have hardly any recourse, hardly any help, hardly any support.
ROYWe have to change the dialogue. Those who've said that we need to bring in parent-teachers associations, they're absolutely right. Why isn't every PTA in the country talking about this? It's also true that we need to really start to support teachers in ways we have before. The biggest voice of the table is the gun. It has to be the voice of the teacher and the student.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, here is a challenging question. It's on Twitter, and it says, "I teach in a high school building with more than 20 different entrances. It is impossible to guard each." Greg Thomas, what do you say to that?
THOMASWell, then you have really get, as everybody's mentioning, for more adults involved in a conversation regarding security. I'll give you a quick example. I was in a school in the Northeast doing assessment. And as I was on the first floor, some young men that were near me were making their way out of a side door. And as they made they way out the side door, I heard a voice that somebody said, young men, you know, you can't go out that way, come back in. I looked around for what that person was. It wasn't a security guard.
THOMASIt wasn't a SRO. It wasn't a principal. It was custodian. A woman custodian was in the building, and she fully was empowered and felt empowered enough to tell those young men to come back inside the school. And what they do, they came back inside the school. So to that point about having many doors, I know that's going to be a problem no matter where you are in the country, but the issue is having all hands on deck and every adult in the building being a part of the process for security.
REHMAnd finally, here's an email from Jack in Columbia, Mo., who says, "Please ask your guests to comment on the lack of U.S. data on this complicated subject. It appears we have little or no reliable evidence on which to make good decisions regarding armed law enforcement presence in schools or on gun control and safety." Mo.
CANADYYes. We in October released a report from our association called "To Protect and Educate." That report is available for free on our website at www.nasro.org, and it has -- it's chock-full of data that I think would be helpful. And also one point to make here, it's important to understand that the SRO is one piece of the school safety pie, and it's not going to fix it all, just one piece of it.
DIANISYes. And there's also -- I mean, from the arrests standpoint that we worked on, there actually is not good data. We know that by state, there is data, but unfortunately, it's not being tracked in school districts across the country, so we don't know how big the problem is. But the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education actually is starting to collect data so that we can see how bad this problem is of school-based arrests.
REHMAnd, of course, there's some young people who are taking films and photographs. What do they...
DIANISThat's right. Right. That's right. Yes. So we've been working with young people across the country to push back on the NRA's idea of an armed guard at every school, and also they want armed personnel -- teachers, janitors. And young people, a group here in D.C., took pictures of their schools to show that they looked like prisons and to show the police presence. And they also have been pushing back across the country because they feel like they don't want more police.
REHMJudith Browne Dianis, Lucinda Roy, Gregory Thomas, Mo Canady, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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