ABC News Radio, March 5, 2019
About 14 million students attend schools across the U.S. where they walk the halls alongside police officers but don’t have access to counselors, nurses, psychologists or social workers, according to an ACLU report released Monday.
And of the schools that do provide students access to mental health professionals, about 90 percent fail to meet minimum staff-to-student ratio, which the report found can mean one counselor is responsible for more than 400 students.
But the increasingly popular decision to fund police officers in schools, combined with a lack of mental health experts available, has had a disproportionate effect on both students of color and students with disabilities, the report found. Nationwide, these marginalized students were subject to more discipline bias and overcriminalization than their peers, according to a review of 2015-2016 data from the Department of Education.
While arrest rates were higher across the board for schools with police compared with schools without police, students with disabilities were arrested almost three times more than peers, and in certain states were 10 times as likely to be arrested. Black students were arrested at a rate three times higher than white students, and sometimes eight times higher, the report found.
Black girls — about 13 percent of female students — accounted for nearly 40 percent of the girls arrested in schools and were arrested at least four times more often than white girls. Latino and Latina students were arrested in schools at a rate 1.3 times higher than white students. Native American and Pacific Islander students were more than twice as likely to be arrested as white students nationwide, the report found.
Meanwhile, mental health professionals are often “the first to see children who are sick, stressed, or traumatized — especially in low-income districts,” the report found. Having mental health professionals at schools leads to better attendance rates, academic achievement and graduation rates, while bringing down the rates of suspensions, expulsions and other disciplinary incidents.
But Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos has begun to roll back this policy, saying local schools should make decisions free of federal guidance. Asking schools to hit “racial quotas” with their disciplinary actions instead pressures schools to let students off the hook because of how the numbers will look, DeVos said in a statement about the policy updates last year.