Due to escalating concern over the recent surge of complaints regarding incidents of civil rights violations, including unnecessary and excessive punishment of students, the U.S. Education Department published a series of new guidelines directing school officials on how and when they should incorporate law enforcement officers into discipline decisions. The aim of the new guidelines is to discourage schools from turning over student discipline to local law enforcement officers, more commonly known as school resource officers. Although acknowledging that school resource officers can help keep children safe, representatives of the Education Department argue that ensuring that discipline is handled by trained educators needs to be the focus of future reform.
In a letter to school officials, the Secretary of the Department stated that when police officers and not educators are responsible for disciplinary problems, school behavior issues could escalate into arrests. Instead, he argues that rather than automatically removing students from academic situations by allowing officers to enter classrooms to enforce discipline more emphasis should be placed on prevention.
The new guidelines provide a series of steps aimed at helping incorporate school resource officers into learning environments in a more responsible manner, including:
- Creating partnerships and drafting formal Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between school districts, law enforcement agencies, and juvenile justice entities;
- Ensuring that MOUs are consistent with constitutional and statutory civil rights requirements;
- Recruiting and hiring school resource officers and school employees;
- Ensuring that officers and school personnel are adequately trained; and
- Continually evaluating officers and school employees with an emphasis on recognizing good performance.
As part of the process, the guidelines also recommend requiring involvement from school administrators, teachers, members of the community, and police officers in drafting MOUs. Furthermore, the parties are directed to reconvene regularly to make periodic revisions, although the memorandums should always include provisions containing language directing officers to refrain from becoming involved in non-criminal matters and to attempt other methods besides arrest. According to the guidelines, MOUs should also clearly define the different roles of school officers and administrators when addressing minor misbehavior.
According to the guidelines, school resource officers should also be given school-specific preparation and training as well as education concerning youth development. It is hoped that instituting practices similar to those recommended in the guidelines will create a more cohesive attempt to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline that has so long afflicted youths in America.
Contact an Experienced Civil Rights Attorney Today
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for school-age youths to be arrested, detained, and introduced to the juvenile justice system for minor school infractions. The new guidelines may help schools implement more effective and humane treatment of youths, but in the meantime schools and law enforcement officers should and can be held responsible for violating the civil rights of students, so if your child was recently disciplined by a police officer while on campus, it is important to obtain the advice of an experienced civil rights attorney who can help protect your child’s interests. Please contact Ford Law by calling 404-373-9881 to schedule an initial consultation with a dedicated attorney.