Funding for police over mental health professionals in schools is at an all-time high
School guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists are critical components to our school systems. They’re often the first to calm an aggressive situation, help students with bullying, mental health, and engage with kids suffering from trauma. But a recent report suggests millions of students are in schools with school resource officers (SRO’s) — but no mental health support staff.
According to the ACLU, 14 million students are in schools with police but no access to counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers. Additionally, professional standards recommended “at least one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students.” Currently, 90 percent of schools fail to meet the minimum staff-to-student ratio.
It’s not to say all schools are pulling funding or firing counselors in lieu of additional SROs (who are police officers), but for many, funding that could have gone towards an increase in mental health professionals is being allocated towards police instead.
This comes at a time when suicide rates among children ages ten to 17 increased by 70 percent between 2006 and 2016, the CDC reports. With anxiety and depression at an all-time high amongst this nation’s youth, it seems these support resources are more important than ever.
Schools that invest in mental health services also see improved attendance rates, better academic achievement, and higher graduation rates as well as lower rates of suspension, expulsion, and other disciplinary incidents according to the report.
But it seems since Columbine, many districts are choosing to spend their money on police instead, but at what cost to students? Many believe SROs create unintended consequences, especially for students of color, such as suspension, expulsion, or even arrest. Black students are 2.2 times more likely to be either referred to police or arrested during school hours than white students if an SRO is present at the school, according to the Education Department.
School resource officers don’t necessarily deter would-be school shooters or protect against them, as we saw in the case of Parkland, FL where 14 children and three staff members died while the officer hid outside.
What’s more, although schools with SRO’s were more likely to have emergency plans in the event of a shooting, a Congressional Research Service report concluded that “the body of research on the effectiveness of SROs does not address whether their presence in schools has deterred mass shootings.”
Districts have a choice over how some federal funding is used and the government is already prioritizing grant funding for those who intend to hire more SROs. For many schools the message is loud and clear, choosing grant money over services that will actually help our youth is prioritized from the very top.
There are organizations that are trying to effect change. Voices of Youth in Chicago are actively lobbying for changes in school districts to use some money designated for school resource officers for school psychologists, social workers, and other strategies. But each district must band together to lobby for these changes, and not all will be successful.
Students need these services. Speaking from experience, they are a lifesaver for kids who need help. Kids who trust them and feel able to come to counselors with problems, vital staff members who make our kids feel like they have a safe space. We are doing our kids a disservice if we continue to try to solve our nation’s gun problem at the expense of our children.