Many California Schools Lack Policies for Police Interactions, Report Finds

California’s schools are quick to call in police for relatively minor offenses, behavioral issues or classroom disruptions, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California. 

Because many school districts lack clear policies on how schools interact with law enforcement officers, children at many schools across the state — including many students of color, low-income students and students with disabilities — are at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline. Additionally, because of a failure to enact policies around engagement with members of law enforcement, many school districts may be vulnerable to legal action.

In looking at data recently released by the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2013-14 school year, California’s K-12 schools reported 22,746 incidents where students were referred to the police, and 9,540 student arrests. In “The Right to Remain A Student: How California Schools Fail to Protect and Serve,” the ACLU examined the policies related to student-police interactions for 119 school districts across the state, including the 50 most populous districts.

The ACLU report outlines the consequences of increased student-police interactions, describes differing policies across school districts on how students and police interact, and shares models from Pasadena, Oakland and San Francisco, among others, that “promote school safety and protect students’ rights.”

California’s counties’ school districts have three different kinds of relationships with law enforcement. Some districts, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, might have their own school police departments. Other school districts might have a formalized relationship with local police department, through which officers are assigned to campuses. Finally, schools may call police on an as-needed basis.

The report describes the ways in which the police presence has increased in the last 10 years. Student-police interactions were found to disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.

For example, the report found that American Indian students are 3.4 times as likely to receive a school-based referral to police as their white peers. Black students are 2.7 times as likely; Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students 1.4 times as likely. Once referred, students of color are also more likely to be arrested, while white students’ likelihood of arrest decreased.

Data also shows a student-to-counselor ratio in the state of 945:1, the highest in the nation and more than double the national average.

The report pays special attention to a lack of clarity in California’s schools around the reasons and manner in which police are brought to schools and interact with students. It recommends that schools develop concrete, actionable policies regarding when police may be called. The calls should not be for police to enforce school rules, deal with disruptions or vandalism, but rather for “real and immediate physical threats.”

Recommendations also address how police are required to identify themselves to gain access to students, how they question and arrest students, how data on police interactions with students is maintained, how complaints from students and families may be filed, and how school districts develop memorandums of understanding with local police.

Students’ rights (and understanding of those rights) must be prioritized. For example, currently 99.6 percent of districts statewide do not force police to obtain a court order or warrant to interrogate students, and almost 99 percent of districts don’t require police to Mirandize the students they are questioning. There are similar percentages for the number of school districts in which police can remove a student from school without notifying the principal.

By neglecting to get a handle on policies around police interaction with students, schools may not only jeopardize their students’ safety and educational experience. They also invite liability issues around discriminatory practices by law enforcement on school campuses, where protections such as the Fourth Amendment and California’s anti-discrimination laws could come into play on behalf of students.

The report outlines a full list of recommendations for crafting policies within school districts that can better define students’ rights so that students of color, lower income, or disability aren’t more vulnerable to police interactions, and schools can work to “manage police encounters safely and equitably for all students.”

Click here to read the full report.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Elizabeth Green
About Elizabeth Green 39 Articles
Elizabeth Green is the community outreach and education manager for Fostering Media Connections, and a general assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change.