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Bill to Help Schools Cut Ties With Police Introduced by Lawmakers

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Federal funding would be prohibited from being used to hire, train, and keep law enforcement at schools, under legislation introduced by four Democratic members of Congress.

The Counseling Not Criminalization Act would also create a $2.5 billion grant program to replace police in schools with school psychologists, social workers, and other staff to help support mental health and provide trauma-informed services. 

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced the Senate version of the bill on Wednesday, while Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., introduced the House version. Murphy, Omar, and Warren belong to their respective chambers' education commitees. Although the legislation will certainly face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the Trump administration, it's another sign that there's new energy in long-standing debates about whether police belong in school

Groups that have long opposed school-based law enforcement have celebrated this year as school districts in cities like Denver, Oakland, and Minneapolis severed their ties with police departments, following the May death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd in police custody and the subsequent protests over racial injustice and law enforcement.

In addition to barring federal money from being used to support police in schools, the Counseling Not Criminalization Act would require districts to provide assurances that they will end any existing contracts they have with police before they receive grant money, and that they won't enter into a new contract with police during the term of the grant. The money could also pay for student behavioral interventions and provide professional development to educators to create safe learning environments. However, it couldn't be paid to support implementation of zero-tolerance discipline policies or surveillance systems. 

In a statement, Murphy said that while many districts brought police officers into schools in response to the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., subsequent events and evidence has shown that "there are far better ways to ensure kids' safety" and that school police officers are contributing to a "civil rights crisis" by disproportionately arresting Black and Latino students. 

"If we are going to begin to tackle systemic racism in this country, we must start by addressing the racial inequities in our education system, and getting police out of classrooms is a necessary first step," Murphy said. 

Legislation addressing concerns about law enforcement after Floyd's death was introduced several weeks ago by Democrats and Republicans; however, neither proposal has gotten traction. The Democrats' plan would direct federal grants to pilot programs, including for school police, and could create more-uniform standards for SROs, while the GOP bill does not directly address police in schools. 

But opinions in schools about the role of police officers are mixed. A recent Education Week survey of educators found that just 23 percent agreed with the idea of removing armed police officers from the nation's schools. And 54 percent of survey respondents "believe that armed police officers belong in the schools in districts where they work," Ed. Week's Holly Kurtz wrote in June about the survey results. 

A prominent source of federal aid for school policing comes from a Department of Justice program called Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). It funds school resource officers and other law enforcement programs. In fiscal 2019, it provided $153 million to help hire police officers, according to the Congressional Research Service, although it's unclear from the CRS report in May exactly how much went to hiring SROs.

The STOP School Violence Act, enacted in response to the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school shootings also provided more funding for school police among other safety measures, although it curtailed school safety research.  

The Counseling Not Criminalization Act is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and other groups. The AFT recently called on schools not to use police to handle security, but did not issue an outright demand for schools to bar contracting with local police departments to hire SROs. 

It's worth noting that Minneapolis schools have started hiring private security guards after ending their relationship with police, a decision that's drawn new criticism. Such a move shows that under the terms of the Democrats' bill, schools could cut ties with police while still using controversial security practices. 

Photo: Jaylen Lee, 4, rides his scooter and looks at signs hanging on a fence near the White House June 9 after days of protests over the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, a black man. --AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin


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