• By Makiah Lyons, Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., & Morgan Craven, J.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2022 •
Schools should be safe and supportive environments for all students to learn, play and grow. Every student should enter their classroom and know they are in an environment that affirms their culture, supports their individual dignity and rights, and protects them from bullying and harassment and physical violence.
School leaders and policymakers have a duty to adopt effective, research-based policies that protect all students, all the time. They also have a duty to reject and eliminate policies that may feel popular (particularly in the wake of school violence) but that actually compromise the safety of students. Below are recommendations for what those policy changes should be.
End Harmful Discipline and School Policing
Arming teachers and school personnel, beefing up surveillance of students, placing police in schools and adopting exclusionary and punitive discipline measures are common strategies undertaken to address school safety. But these measures jeopardize school safety and harm students (Craven, 2022). School leaders and policymakers should instead do the following.
School districts should eliminate district police forces and end all contracts with law enforcement agencies and other entities that place police officers and other armed security personnel in schools. District policies should clearly prohibit school administrators and other staff from contacting police officers to handle any issues and tasks that are unrelated to real threats to safety.
School districts should be required to develop plans with students, teachers, families and community partners to phase out the use of exclusionary and punitive discipline practices in schools. They should work together to develop protocols to identify the needs and address the behaviors of students and adults in the school community.
States should provide strict guidelines around the use of school suspensions and alternative education settings to ensure exclusionary discipline is only used as a last resort. States should never allow zero tolerance discipline policies that automatically punish students and fail to consider and address challenges that young people may be facing, such as whether a student is homeless, is in foster care, has a disability, has no disciplinary history or a student acted in self-defense.
School leaders and policymakers have a duty to adopt effective, research-based policies and practices that protect all students, all the time.
States should adopt policies that require robust data collection and reporting and that hold districts accountable for disproportionate discipline and policing rates that target students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students and others.
The U.S. Congress should immediately pass bills that eliminate federal funding for school police (Counseling not Criminalization in Schools Act, HR 4011 & S 2125), prohibit corporal punishment (Protecting Our Students in Schools Act, HR 3836 & S 2029) and prohibit harmful seclusions and restraints in schools (Keeping All Students Safe Act, HR 3474 & S1858).
Invest in the People and Programs Students Need
Safe schools are built and maintained through strong, enduring relationships between diverse staff, educators, students and families within the school community. These relationships are crucial to fostering welcoming and inclusive school climates and creating effective mechanisms that provide both accountability and support for all community members. Policies at every level can help schools implement strategies to grow authentic relationships and sustain the programs that ensure true safety.
States should allocate more funding and provide technical support to aid school districts in adopting research-based strategies like restorative practices. Restorative practices are methods that can be used to build strong relationships throughout the school community, shifting emphasis away from the punishment, shame and exclusion of traditional discipline and toward policies that instead focus on community-building both before and following conflict (Duggins-Clay, 2022; Yusem, nd). State funds can be used to support campus-level staff, resource hubs through state education agencies, and training and monitoring programs. (See article on Page 5.)
States and school districts should adopt policies that provide funding, create technical assistance programs, and articulate clear, public support to programs that train teachers to adopt culturally-sustaining instructional practices. Culturally-sustaining practices are another research-based strategy that schools can use to promote strong relationships across school communities by valuing and nurturing students, staff and families of all races and ethnicities (Caldera, 2021). These practices encourage students to be authentic and engaged in the classroom because they recognize their identities and community connections as a strength.
Through strong, clear policies that provide support and monitoring protocols for implementation and impact, states, schools and districts can ensure all education professionals are prepared to recognize and appreciate diversity and affirm and celebrate the diverse identities of students within the classroom (Latham Sikes, 2020).
States and school districts should invest in recruitment and retention programs to attract diverse, well-qualified people to the teaching profession. These can include “grow your own” programs that support aspiring teachers who want to remain in schools in their communities (IDRA EAC-South, 2019; Carver-Thomas & Grayson, 2017).
States and school districts should enact clear and consistent discipline policies and train school personnel in classroom management. Schools receiving federal funds are required by law to intervene in bullying or harassment incidences that are related to a student’s identity. Schools should avoid sinking resources into anti-bullying campaigns that research shows are ineffective, such as student bystander strategy, anti-bullying assemblies and slogans, and instead train teachers and school employees in effective classroom management techniques (Brion-Meisels, et al., 2022; IDRA EAC-South, 2021).
States and school districts should expand ethnic studies courses, which have been shown to improve student outcomes and build community (IDRA, 2021). State legislatures and state education agencies could formally adopt ethnic studies courses as electives or identify them as courses available to fulfill a required credit (Gómez, 2021). With student and community input, districts can implement budget and timeline plans to ensure they are able to train and hire diverse educators to teach ethnic studies courses at campuses across the district.
States and school districts should invest in resource hubs, refine guidelines around professional duties,and allocate funding to support programs and school personnel who are trained to address mental, behavioral and other health needs.
School counselors, social workers and other health professionals are extremely valuable and help schools identify and respond to the diverse and critical needs of their staff and students and improve school climates (Lapan, et al., 2012). These professionals are a critical part of ensuring holistic school safety and addressing the issues adults and students are facing. Professional organizations recommend a student-to-counselor ratio of at least 250:1 (ASCA, 2022). Unfortunately, many schools are not meeting this recommendation and students do not have access to these professionals, even as school districts invest instead in school policing and other programs that are harmful for students (ASCA, 2022; Whitaker, et al., 2019).
For more information about IDRA’s policy, advocacy, community engagement, and research on school safety, join our Southern Education Equity Network at www.idraseen.org.
ASCA. (2022). School Counselor Roles & Ratios, webpage. American School Counselor Association.
Brion-Meisels, G.; O’Neil, E., & Bishop, S. (January 2022). Literature Review – Bullying and Harassment in Schools Literature Review. IDRA.
Caldera, A. (May 2021). What the Term “Culturally Sustaining Practices” Means for Education in Today’s Classrooms. IDRA Newsletter.
Carver-Thomas, D., & Grayson, K. (April 2017). Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse, High-Quality Teacher Workforce. IDRA Newsletter.
Craven, M. (June 16, 2022). What Safe Schools Should Look Like for Every Student – A Guide to Building Safe and Welcoming Schools and Rejecting Policies that Hurt Students, Issue Brief. IDRA.
Duggins-Clay, P. (March 23, 2022). Realizing Our Common Humanity – Restorative Practices Can Build and Strengthen Relationships in Post-Pandemic Schools. Learning Goes On. IDRA.
Gómez, I. (May 2021). Visions and Provisions – Planning for K-12 Ethnic Studies Implementation. IDRA Newsletter.
Homer, E., & Fisher, B. (2019). Police in Schools and Student Arrest Rates Across the United States: Examining Differences by Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. Journal of School Violence. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15388220.2019.1604377
IDRA. (2021). Ethnic Studies Can be Life-Changing – Infographic. IDRA.
IDRA EAC-South. (2021). Safe, Friendly and Learning Supportive Spaces: Interrupting Bullying & Harassment in Schools Toolkit, online assistance package.
IDRA EAC-South. (2019). Diversifying the Field – Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color, online assistance package. IDRA.
Lapan, R., Whitcomb, S., & Aleman, N. (2012). Connecticut Professional School Counselors: College and Career Counseling Services and Smaller Ratios Benefit Students. Professional School Counseling, 16(2), 117-124
Latham Sikes, C. (January 2020). Teacher Preparation for Diverse Classrooms. IDRA Newsletter.
Whitaker, A., Torres-Guillén, S., Morton, M., Jordan, H., Coyle, S., Mann, A., & Sun, W. (2019). Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff is Harming Students. ACLU.
Yusem, D. (n.d.). Restorative Justice in Schools: SEL in Action. Mindful Schools.
Makiah Lyons is IDRA’s education law intern. Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., is IDRA’s chief legal analyst. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at email@example.com. Morgan Craven, J.D., is the IDRA national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2022 issue of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]