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Opposition, Support Grow for Adding Armed Police at Schools

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UPDATED

While President Barack Obama said recently that he would be skeptical that more guns would be an answer to school safety, his administration is considering paying to add police officers to secure public schools, in part because it may be an area of agreement among lawmakers of all stripes.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, told the Washington Post she presented the plan to Vice President Joe Biden and he was "very, very interested" and may include it policy recommendations he makes to President Obama.

"If a school district wants to have a community policing presence, I think it's very important they have it," Boxer said in an interview Thursday. "If they want uniformed officers, they can do it. If they want plainclothed officers, they can do it."

On Thursday, a high school student in California shot and injured a classmate and attempted to shoot others. He was disarmed by a school science teacher. The Los Angeles Times reported that the school's armed police officer was not on duty Thursday because he had been delayed by snow.

Boxer's initiative would provide federal dollars to schools that want to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment. It wouldn't go as far as the National Rifle Association's proposal to provide armed guards at every public school.

But today, adding to the chorus of voices opposing more guns in schools, the Advancement Project, the Alliance for Educational Justice, the Dignity in Schools Campaign, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund said increasing police presence is not an answer. They noted the potential side effects of adding more police officers: students being arrested for violations of school codes of conduct, actions which aren't necessarily crimes.

"We have seen increased police presence leading to high numbers of youth—particularly youth of color and students with disabilities—being arrested for minor and trivial misbehaviors. We have seen young people who are pushed out of schools by hostile and prison-like school cultures. We have seen time, energy, and resources being devoted to the criminalization, not the education, of young people," they wrote in a joint issue brief.

In Colorado, after the shootings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County in 1999, the groups noted, schools added more police, security guards, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras in an effort to make schools safer. But the real result, the groups said, was an increase in students arrested for nonviolent behavior and minor offenses. Between 2000 and 2004, the groups said, Denver experienced 71 percent increase in school referrals to law enforcement.

The groups worry about students' becoming ensnared in school discipline violations unnecessarily. (This year's Quality Counts, out this week, explores the evolution of school discipline policies over the last few decades.)

UPDATE: There must be a bright line between addressing school safety and school discipline," said Damon Hewitt, the director of the education practice Group, for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, during a press call with reporters today.

Schools around the country already are installing more police in schools, however, although it's too soon to say whether the officers will remain as months go by. Parents in Newtown, Conn., have asked their local government agencies to keep them on in their town.

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