The widely-circulated video of a school police officer assaulting a student at REACH Partnership School in Clifton Park last week has prompted legal action and broad discussions of the role of police in public schools. The story has been covered by national outlets including the New York Times and CNN and again focused attention on the criminalization of young people in Baltimore.
Two officers involved in the incident were arrested on Wednesday and school police chief Marshall Goodwin has been placed on administrative leave, but OSI-Baltimore has been among many groups and individuals suggesting that the problem goes much deeper than this single incident. OSI joined fellow members of the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline on March 2, the day after the incident, in releasing a statement that read, in part:
If police are going to be in our schools, they must be a positive, supportive force that creates safer environments for our children. Current trends in BSP practices risk criminalizing our children and feeding young students directly into the school-to-prison pipeline. It is in everyone’s interests to ensure that our students are respected, treated humanely and not victimized by the very persons hired to protect them.
On Tuesday night, dozens of advocates, students, principals, and teachers came to the school board meeting to offer their opinions of school police. Jenny Egan, who represents juveniles in the Office of the Public Defender and is a member of the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline, said school police drastically over-arrest students and said she has a client who was arrested for trading Pokemon card. Egan, who says police have no business in school at all, had an op-ed in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun, headlined “School police do more harm than good.”
Students from Baltimore City College (pictured) demanded a full-scale review of school police and more accountability and transparency. One of the students, affiliated with the CityBloc protest group, said “students are not criminals, they deserve respect,” and called for the officers to be fired and school police policies to be changed. Others in attendance, including some school principals expressed support for school police, suggesting they’re necessary to keep students safe.
Also on Tuesday, Vice published a story, “Arrests and Suspensions Are Out of Control in Baltimore Schools,” that quoted Egan and Karen Webber, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Education and Youth Development program, who also used to oversee school police as director of student support service for the Baltimore City Public Schools System. It suggested that “a lack of leadership and a persistent culture of criminalization within public schools have the city suspending, expelling, and arresting students too often—and in discriminatory fashion.”