Student-led class in the Holistic Me afterschool program. Photo by Colby Ware
This week, Baltimore Board of Education announced plans to increase the number of police present in Baltimore City Public Schools. According to the Baltimore Sun, school officials, citing safety concerns and an effort to build relationships between officers and students, will reinstate unarmed officers in 30 schools this fall, increasing the number of schools with permanently assigned officers from seven to 37. Twenty-eight armed officers will continue to patrol school grounds and surrounding communities. This is a reversal of the decision last year to pull police out of schools after legislation that would have allowed them to be armed while in the school building failed.
Leaders of the teachers and administrators unions both praised the move, citing the need for school police to be inside schools, building relationships with students and staff. Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, predicted the move would “significantly improve the schools climate and foster healthy relationships between the police, [union members,] students and parents.”
But some advocates for school discipline reform are concerned that a police presence in schools will do more harm than good if they are not trained and integrated properly.
OSI-Baltimore’s Education and Youth Development program aims to refocus, reduce, and ultimately eliminate school policing to decrease arrests. We understand that safety in Baltimore City Public Schools is paramount, but it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that our students are respected, treated humanely, and not victimized by the very people hired to protect them. We are heartened to learn that the new plan calls for the creation of a professional standards unit to handle internal affairs as well an increase in officer training for de-escalation strategies, bias awareness, and trauma and mental health issues. If police are going to be in our schools, we believe they must be a positive, supportive force that creates safer environments for our children.
OSI supports programs that are working to transform school climate. The Positive Schools Center (PSC) of the University of Maryland School of Social Work, an initiative funded by a multi-year grant from OSI, is dedicated to creating positive school climates in which students can thrive and grow, both academically and socially. Another grantee, The Holistic Life Foundation created an afterschool program, Holistic Me, that works with Baltimore City students to introduce the concepts of yoga, mindfulness, meditation, centering and breath work to empower them with skills needed for peaceful conflict resolution, improved focus and concentration, greater control and awareness of thoughts and emotions, improved self-regulation, anger management, and stress reduction.