Many California school districts offer their staff little or no guidance on when police should be called to control student behavior, according to a new study that comes as districts face increased pressure to redefine law enforcement’s role in public schools.
The report, released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, analyzed law enforcement policies of 119 California school districts, including 50 of its most populous. It found that more than half of the districts–large and small–gave their staff broad discretion to summon police officers for small infractions, bullying and disrupting lessons.
The result, according to the study’s authors, is that school administrators often outsource what used to be routine, in-school discipline to police officers. And when they do, the effects are disproportionately harsh for poor, minority and disabled students, who are more likely to be arrested than their peers.
During the 2013-14 school year, 9,540 school-related arrests were made in California, according to the study. Black students were three times as likely as white students to be charged with an offense.
“Too often, school staff call the police to have them handle a situation that makes a student end up having to go to court or get a fine,” said ACLU staff attorney Victor Leung. “Really, they should have no discretion–the rule should be that they handle this minor rule-breaking with their own staff.”
Model school districts include San Francisco, Oakland and Pasadena, the latter of which has an agreement with local law enforcement that forbids police officers from responding to calls of discipline problems and says school administrators are responsible for handling misbehavior.
Los Angeles Unified School District receives some kudos for its policy requiring police officers to have a warrant or court order before removing a student for questioning. But the report notes, disapprovingly, that the district continues to require school staff to screen middle and high school students randomly and daily, using a metal detector wand.
“While the policy expressly states that police should not conduct the searches, the ACLU’s review of the district’s search logs revealed that police frequently perform the searches,” the report says. “This policy has led to the unnecessary criminalization of students who possess minor contraband or do not wish to comply with the searches.”