Mental Health

School Shootings Aren't the Only Things School Police Officers Need to Train For

In light of recent school shootings, one of the proposed solutions has been to put more school police officers in schools. In the last 30 years, we have dramatically increased the presence of police officers in schools up from 1 percent of schools having police officers in 1975 to 30 percent in 2013. The majority of these officers carry handcuffs, a gun, mace and a taser. Recently, Education Week released a national survey in which most officers say that having an armed officer on campus deters school shootings and minimizes harm in the event of a school shooting. It’s not that I disagree with having more school police officers, but that by itself is not a solution. To put it bluntly, these school police officers must understand what every strong educator knows instinctively: To support young people, you have to build an honest, strong and authentic relationship with them. The data, unfortunately, shows that this is not happening. Just under half of the school police officers surveyed (48 percent) monitor the social media use of the students in the schools they serve. That is simply mind boggling. As any teacher or parent knows, social media is a huge part of students’ lives. To ignore social media is to be, in many ways, irrelevant to a modern-day child’s life. If school police officers want to fully understand the students they are meant to protect, they have to be aware of the school’s virtual social landscape. Secondly, the vast majority of school police officers (93 percent) have received training in responding to active shooters. By contrast, fewer than half have received training in child trauma (39 percent) or the teen brain (37 percent). School shootings, as nightmarish and unacceptable as they are, are relatively rare. A student living with trauma is not. Indeed in many schools, particularly those serving a student body living in poverty, living with trauma is the norm. And the teenage brain is not fully developed, particularly in the area of logical decision-making. To spend such an exorbitant amount of time on training officers to respond to an active shooter, a terrifying yet statistically race occurrence, while ignoring the realities of the students they serve, is misguided. Simply put, it is putting the cart before the horse. In the same survey, school police officers were asked what could be done to prevent school shootings. The data made me hang my head. To prevent school shootings, 86 percent say we need to either provide more training on possible threats, enhance physical security or employ police. Only 8 percent recommended focusing on building relationships and only 5 percent recommended focusing on social-emotional learning. Interestingly enough, however, it is worth noting that only a minority of officers (33 percent) say that training and arming a select group of teachers would make schools safer. And, unsurprisingly, given the nearly universal experience of less than equitable treatment among the African-American population in the United States, Black officers are less likely than their non-Black peers to perceive that schools would be safer if teachers were armed. We have to do better than this. We cannot simply hire more cops, install more cameras and metal detectors, and wait for the next school shooter to arrive and then mow him down in a hail of bullets. Our children are crying out to us to help them. They are traumatized, hurt and plugged into a 24/7 digital landscape—the likes of which their elders cannot comprehend. Should we install metal detectors? Sure. Should we hire more police officers? Sure. But we need social workers and school psychologists. We need courses on social-emotional learning. We need to train our teachers and police officers on the uniqueness of the teenage brain and the insidious impact of trauma on a young person’s psyche.
Zachary Wright 
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating ...

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