The 2008 economic meltdown served as the signal to gut the public school system in the U.S. In October 2014, The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities reported that “States are providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did seven years ago – often far less.” Fleshing this out, the report continues, “At least 30 states are providing less funding per student for the 2014-15 school year than they did before the recession hit. Fourteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent.” Even in cases where states have begun to once again increase funding, they are doing so at too modest a level to address actual needs. “For example, Alabama is increasing school funding by $16 per pupil this year. But that is far less than is needed to offset the state’s $1,144 per-pupil cut over the previous six years.”
Unsurprisingly, these cutbacks have hit inner city schools the hardest. “Urban school districts have already laid off thousands of teachers, increased class sizes, pushed to reduce teacher pensions, and cut out music, gym, kindergarten, bilingual programs, after-school and youth programs, and more.” In March of this year, Sarah Chamber, a special education teacher in Chicago, a Chicago Teachers Union board member and the co-chair of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators explained the decision of Chicago teachers to illegally strike:
We’ve seen over the years more layoffs, class sizes increasing, cuts to counsellors and clinicians, our schools being closed, private schools and charters opening up. It’s making the learning and working conditions very difficult in the schools.
Just this school year, there’s been so many cuts to our schools that it’s hard to keep track of them. At the beginning of the year, there were millions of dollars in cuts to special ed. Our students with disabilities weren’t getting their services that were required by law; parents and teachers and community groups had to go fight the Board of Ed with lawyers to get services back.
Then there were more special ed cuts in the middle of the year, then more general layoffs. A month or two ago, there were even more cuts. My school lost $100,000. Our budgets were already bare bones, and the principals had to cut even more.
And then just two weeks ago, we had another round of cuts. They froze all the funds; my school lost another $80,000. For my school, they’ve cut almost all the before- and after-school programs – intervention programs for kids who were struggling, all types of clubs – plus most of our substitutes.
We’re not able to function with this low level of funding. And the board says they’re going to make more cuts. Being in the school right now, I can’t imagine what else they could cut.
We only have one nurse right now for a couple days a week to serve 1200 students. If a student is sick – maybe they vomited, maybe they have lice – they’re sent back to the classroom, because there’s no nurse there. The majority of schools only have one counsellor for all their students.
To which she added:
They stopped paying our … pay increases based on time in the schools and degrees earned. Legally, they have to continue paying them, because we’re still under our old contract, which provides for steps and lanes pay increases. So they’re breaking the contract, which is why we’re going on an unfair labor practice strike.
This is a scenario that is repeating itself across the U.S. “By this summer, Detroit’s schools will be a whopping $515 million in debt and the schools are rapidly running out of funding.” The school district’s response was to announce that it would cease paying teacher’s salaries on June 30, a decision that affects “about two thirds of the city’s teachers (who) have signed onto a common teacher payment plan that spreads paychecks out throughout the year.” The teachers, who cannot legally strike, responded with a two-day sickout. The district folded, assuring the union that teachers will continue to be paid after June 30, and the teachers, who were also protesting “black mold, rat infestations and other dire conditions in their schools,” returned to class.
In Québec, where I live, the situation is similar. Catherine Renaud, president of the union representing teachers at the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), Québec’s largest school board, says that the impact of budget cuts have been so extensive that “teachers have to account for every pencil and piece of paper they use.” As well as cutbacks, the Québec government is “forcing the CSDM to wipe out a $42-million deficit over two years,” resulting in the layoffs of “seven psychologists, eight psycho-educators who help children with behavioural problems and three guidance counsellors,” leaving the CSDM with only “one psychologist for every 1,850 students.” Furthermore, “45 CSDM schools have lost their status as ‘special needs schools’ after the Education Department changed the way it calculates whether students come from disadvantaged homes,” resulting in increased class sizes and the loss of “funding for special-education teachers, food programs and homework help.”
Meanwhile, at Québec’s largest English-language school board, the Lester B. Pearson School Board, “officials have had to implement $24.8 million in budget cuts over the last two years. This has resulted in cuts to librarians, caretakers and pedagogical consultants, as well as the forced merging of several elementary schools. The school board also lost $765,000 in grants for special needs support. A decision to maintain the necessary programmes in spite of the lost grant funding means a projected $1.6 million deficit for the school board this year.
The reality is the same across the country. In 2014, the government of Ontario announced that it would cut $500 million form education over three years. This year, the Vancouver School Board, in British Columbia, which is bound by law to present a balanced budget, announced that it would address a $27.26 million projected shortfall by increasing class sizes and eliminating thirty-three secondary school teaching positions. Support for sports and art events will be cutback, and technological support will be eliminated, along with “supporting teacher librarians, gifted teachers and resources teachers.” Staffing for student support workers (SSWs) – who provide in classroom special needs support – would be reduced by 12 positions (from a base of 670).” The literacy intervention programme will be eliminated. Staff members will now pay $20 a month to park in school parking lots. With local variations, it’s the same story in a number of other provinces: Alberta will cut $14.5 million from its education budget; in Nova Scotia teaching positions, bussing and library hours are all on the chopping block; in Newfoundland, the school boards will be consolidated, and 160 teaching, administrative and support staff positions will be eliminated. Even in cases where the education budget is being increased (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut) it is generally deemed to be insufficient to meet existing needs.
As the gutting of the public school system in the U.S. has proceed apace, disproportionately affecting low-income schools, where the student population is generally largely non-white, we have seen the growth or what has come to be known as the school-to-prison-pipeline. Police – often referred to as School Resource Officers (SROs) – are the frontline in this war on education. Although SROs first began to appear in a limited number of U.S. schools as early as 1958, the real explosion occurred in the nineties, with the formation of the National Association for School Resource Officers and the founding of the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in Schools (CIS) programme. The Justice Quarterly tells us that “As of July 2005, COPS has awarded in excess of $753 million to more than 3,000 grantees to hire more than 6,500 SROs through the CIS program and more than $10 million to hire approximately 100 SROs through the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program.” In 2014, Obama proposed “an additional $150 million to add up to 1,000 new school resource officers through the Comprehensive School Safety Program.” With additional funding under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, the number of cops in schools across the U.S. has grown to 17,000.
Not surprisingly, the introduction of police into schools has been accompanied by an increasingly carceral approach to school discipline. “(N)ot only are students … being locked in ‘isolation rooms’ and physically restrained, but 19 states also continue to employ corporal punishment against ‘disobedient’ pupils,” and “security officers – often employees of the local sheriff’s department or area police force – routinely use mace, pepper spray, stun guns and Tasers to break up fights and suppress ‘unruly’ behavior.” One form of corporal punishment – the paddle – “typically made of wood … is used on the thighs and buttocks for infractions such as bullying, ‘defiance,’ fighting, using profanity, refusing to put a cell phone away, smoking on school grounds, tardiness or violating a school dress code.”
There is an othering in the process that shouldn’t be overlooked, and which goes some way to supporting the conjecture that school policing is part of a war on already marginalized communities:
the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reports that Black students are suspended and expelled three times more frequently than white students, and that Indigenous students are also punished disproportionately. The report also states that students with disabilities “represent 12% of the student populations, but 58% of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement and 75% of those physically restrained at school… Black students represent 19% of students with disabilities … but 36% of these students who are restrained at school…”
Ken S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, calls Tasers “an additional intervention tool that falls between the ultimate use of deadly force and other less-than-lethal interventions” that should only be used by “sworn, certified and trained police officers.” This begs the question: What the fuck are we doing discussing a “tool that falls between the ultimate use of deadly force and other less-than-lethal interventions” in the context of public schools?
As insane as that may seem, it pales in comparison to weaponry being used in schools in Los Angeles. After two years of protest, students were able to force the police department to withdraw “grenade launchers, M-16 rifles, a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle and other military-grade weaponry from its arsenal.”
The true impact of SROs in schools really comes home when you look at the stats. In Connecticut, for example, a report from the Office of the Child Advocate tells us that 90,000 students were restrained and/or isolated over a three-year period from 2012 until 2014, resulting in 1300 injuries, at least a couple of dozen of which were serious – one child was restrained more 700 times. Examples of this enlightened regime include “a 9-year-old student with autism who was placed in seclusion after refusing to say ‘hello’ to a visitor and a 4-year-old boy with a developmental delay who was restrained after throwing puzzle pieces on the floor and across the room.” In on particularly egregious example, “one fourth grader with autism was repeatedly secluded behind closed doors despite making repeated suicidal gestures while there, including wrapping items such as a sock, shoelace and coat around his neck and stating ‘I want to die.’”
This is not an anomalous situation. “An investigation last year by ProPublica and NPR based on government data showed (restraint) practices were used at least 267,000 times nationwide in just one school year.” The report further noted that “Children with physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities comprise nearly three-quarters of the total number of reported restraints. Hundreds of children are injured each year during restraints and at least 20 have died as a result.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to referring students to law enforcement, Virginia, at approximately 16 per 1000 students, leads the U.S., and here again we find the seemingly irrational targeting of disabled students. The case of twelve-year-old autistic student Kayleb Moon-Robinson is instructive. When an SRO saw him kick a garbage can while being scolded, he filed a “disorderly conduct” charge against the boy. A couple of weeks later, the same SRO was sent to take Kayleb to the principal’s office for not obeying the rule that he had to stay in class until all other students had left. When the officer grabbed Kayleb, he pushed back, resulting in his being handcuffed, arrested and charged with “disorderly conduct,” as well as “felony assault on a police officer.” In April 2015, Kayleb was found guilty on all charges, saddling him with a criminal record.
Consider that in New York City alone there are “more than 5,000 police officers, referred to a school safety officers, patrolling the city’s schools,” close to a third of the 17,000 in the U.S. overall and “more than the combined number of school guidance counselors and social workers.” This leads to an increase in the kind of entanglement in the criminal justice that we saw in Virginia. A New York Civil Liberties Union report found that 882 students were arrested in 2011, and that “Ninety-six percent of students arrested were either black or Latino,” with “74 percent of those arrested (being) male.” The bottom line: “An average of four students (were) arrested and seven summoned each day over the course of the 216 high school and 209 middle school days.” Not surprisingly, “Schools with embedded police officers … see five times the number of arrests for ‘disorderly conduct’ than schools without them.” It is equally unsurprising that the schools in question are “primarily … low-income schools attended by children of color.”
As horrifying as these facts and figures are, the true brutality is in the descriptions of the arrests. Take Gyasi Hughes of Round Rock, Texas, for example; he was involved in a typical schoolyard scuffle, when two SROs showed up on the scene. The cops took Gyasi into a corner, and while they were talking, Gyasi touched one of the SROs arms. This resulted in Gyasi being choked and forced to ground, where he was handcuffed.
Then there’s the case of a young man in Brooklyn:
He had broken glasses, and so he had a safety pin that was holding his glasses together. And he was told, “You can’t come in with that, because it’s a weapon, or you can use it as a weapon.” And he said, “I’ve been coming to school with my broken glasses for weeks, and no one’s ever bothered me.” And so the safety agents told him, “If you come in, right, we’re going to confiscate your glasses. So leave them out here.” And he said, “I can’t go to school all day without my glasses.” And so, that turned into an altercation in which he was tackled in front of all of his classmates for trying to go into school with a pair of broken glasses.
The young man was given a summons, and then questioned by NYPD for an hour, without adult supervision.
Those two, it ends up, got off easy. Video footage shows that Noe Niño de Rivera, of Austin, Texas, was attempting to calm a fight between his girlfriend and another young woman, when “two school resource officers came up to him, pushed him out of the way, and one school resource officer pulled his Taser and tased him in the middle of the hallway. Noe fell back, slammed his head and then had to be put in a medically induced coma for 52 days.” After being removed from the coma, Niño de Rivera had to be placed in a rehabilitation center to address the consequences of his permanent brain damage.
A similarly violent arrest that took place in Columbia, South Carolina became a major news item last year. A student caught using her cellphone in class refused to surrender it. An SRO was called in. “Richland County Senior Deputy Ben Fields … proceeded to put the girl in a chokehold, slam her to the ground, despite the fact that she was seated, and drag her halfway across the room in one swift motion.” The girl in question had to be hospitalized with a broken arm, rug burn on her face and pain in her back and neck. It ends up that Deputy Fields is the defendant in a case over claims that he “unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”
How about the 2013 arrest of a sixteen-year-old with Down Syndrome in Chino, California? Christian Roldan was found by a teacher playing with two replica guns. Christian was delivered to the SRO, who, aware of his Down Syndrome, which limited him to one- or two-word answers, proceeded to question him. The SRO “wrote that he appeared agitated,” that he “had his hands clenched in fists” and that he “would not cooperate with my commands.” She attempted to search him for other weapons, and claims he mouthed a profanity, so she call for backup, and the deputies who arrived “escorted him to the floor to gain control of his arms and body.” Although, he had no other weapons, he was arrested, and when his sister arrived she found him hogtied in the back of a police car. “His hands are behind his back and his feet are tied together with handcuffs and they’re connected and he’s sweating. He’s crying. I kept saying you guys have to let him go. He has breathing issues.” Christian had to go to court twice before the judge was convinced of his Down syndrome and dismissed the case.
It’s should come as no shock, that this aggressive policing crosses over into sexual abuse.
According to the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (2007), a 14 year-old female student reported that a “security guard accused [her] of having a knife… They took [her] to a room and made [her] take off [her] shirt and pants to check [her] bra. They didn’t call
parents or let [her] talk to a teacher [she] knew. [She] didn’t have a knife just like [she] told them.”
In a more recent example, last year, an eighth grader in San Bernardino, California “was allegedly ordered to remove clothing and unhook her bra and shake her breasts to see if she was hiding marijuana,” while, “a male campus security officer who works for district police allegedly stood nearby.”
The policing of students isn’t limited to SROs and physical interventions, the school system in Orange County, Florida, entered partnership with the police, to use the social media monitoring software SnapTrends to collect “data from public posts on students’ social media accounts byscanning for keywords that signify cases of cyberbullying, suicide threats, or criminal activity.” “Orange County schools said that since implementing the software last year, it has run 2,504 automated searches, leading to 215 manual searches by school staff,” resulting in “12 police investigations.” The reference to “manual searches” suggests a search for contraband, rather than cyberbullying or suicide, neither of the latter being things people generally keep in their pockets.
Shari Bobinski, who manages media relations in the school system, has the inevitable anecdote of a suicide averted. “The software flagged a female student for using the keyword ‘cutting’ and the phrase ‘nobody will miss me.’” Because SnapTrend’s geofencing prevents surveillance off school property, the police “delved into her public posts from after-school hours.” Police informed her father, and the student went into treatment. Undoubtedly a good outcome, but I return to the “215 manual searches.” What in fact we are being told is that schools play a frontline criminal surveillance role for local police forces. It’s of interest that Bobinski was unable to say for how long the SnapTrends data was retained.
Orange County is not alone:
Schools in Alabama and California have adopted similar social-media-mining software. In Huntsville, Ala., 14 kids were expelled because of social media posts in 2014. …(E)xpulsions result only from serious offenses involving drugs, weapons or sex.
We should not be surprised to read, “Twelve out of the 14 were black, despite the schools’ population of about 40 percent black students and 60 percent white.”
SROs under various titles have also been introduced into Canadian schools. In 2008, thirty SROs were introduced into high schools in Canada’s most populous city, Toronto, a number that increased to fifty the following year. Toronto is not alone; Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Winnipeg all have SROs in their schools. Edmonton has “19 SROs working across 21 senior high schools.” Calgary has twenty-one SROs. Ottawa has “24 Constables covering approximately 370 schools.” Although these numbers are not nearly as staggering and the programme is not nearly as widespread and normalized in Canada as is the case in the U.S., there is still cause for concern.
Of the most expansive programme, that in Toronto, Gita Rao Madan writes, “In Toronto, the stationing of police officers in many public high schools cannot be taken lightly. It occurs within a historical and ongoing daily reality of police violence and brutality toward communities of colour in Toronto, especially young Black and Brown men.” Madan argues “that SRO policing and other zero tolerance-based policies not only produce negligible effects as a strategy for improving school safety in general but have also exacted a severe and often disastrous toll on certain youth – specifically racialized (Black and Brown) students.” Moving from the general to the specific, she reports, “This shift toward a zero tolerance-based disciplinary regime profoundly altered the educational landscape in Ontario. In the 2002-3 school year, the number of students suspended in Ontario spiked from two years prior by almost 50,000, to 157,436; expulsions increased from 106 to 1,786.” To which she adds, the “(Toronto District School Board)’s race-disaggregated suspension data for 2006 (released only in 2013), (indicates) that at the time, suspension rates were disproportionately high for Aboriginal students, followed by Black and mixed-race students.” Ultimately Madan concludes that “interventions like the SRO program are continuous with a modern episteme that is produced by the racial, and, as it follows, with a history of Canadian schools as a site of subjugation of young black and brown bodies.”  We also see familiar problems arising in other areas. For example, in early 2015, in Ottawa, an autistic boy named Daniel Huck was handcuffed by a police officer for “acting out in the principal’s office.”
Québec does not have an SRO programme, but has nonetheless integrated the principle of zero-tolerance policing in schools at an official level. In February 2015, a fifteen-year-old girl suspected of selling drugs was strip-searched at high school in Québec City. In response to a public outcry, Minister of Education Yves Bolduc said, “There are reasons why staff may have to search students, but what’s important is that they respect the law and the framework and that it’s done in a respectful fashion.” There are even guidelines that outline a respectful fashion: “A screen or cover is used to protect students if they are asked to remove their clothes; Only clothes are searched and not the student’s body; Two people must be present during the search, preferably both staff members of the same gender; There must be no direct contact with the student.” Although no drugs were found on the fifteen-year-old girl, the school board decided to transfer her to another school. The girl’s family went to court to try to block the transfer, but Superior Court Judge Bernard Godbout ruled that “it would be better for the student to transfer.”
Meanwhile, in Britain, where SROs are referred to as School Liaison Officers, Home Secretary Theresa May has proposed a stunningly repressive measure that would remove the pipeline aspect from the school to prison pipeline; the school would simply be the prison. May argued that “crime commissioners should be given the power to set up their own free schools,” referring to this as an “alternative provision of free schools to support troubled children and prevent them falling into a life of crime.” It is in the “prevent” that the truth is to be found; what May is proposing is preventive detention disguised as school, and in so doing she reduces the issue at debate here to its nub.
evisceration of the public school system and its increasing
transformation into a network of detention centers has been accompanied
by the growing privatization and marketization of education, most
prominently in the form of the kind of neoliberal charter schools
promoted by Milton Friedman and subsequently embraced by neoliberals of
various stripes. The explosion of charter schools brings
with it a whole set of new problems that threaten the very idea of
universal education, the implications of which I will examine in my next
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 Waldman, “Connecticut Schools Pin Down and Restrain ‘Staggering’ Number of Kids,” accessed at:http://truth-out.org/news/item/29124-connecticut-schools-pin-down-and-restrain-staggering-number-of-kids
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