Despite the rush across the nation to increase police in schools in the aftermath of the deadly shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary, Denver officials signed an agreement to limit the role of law enforcement at the city’s schools this week.
Officials from Denver Public Schools, the Denver Police Department, and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, a community-based group of parents and students, announced what is being hailed as a first-of-its-kind agreement during a national media conference call.
The goal of the agreement is to reduce the number of disciplinary infractions, citations, and arrests among students.
It outlines differences between student offenses that should be handled by educators and those that need police action, encourages a reduction in campus conflicts, and supports resolution rather than punishment for infractions.
“We know that following tragic events in Newtown, Conn., communities across the country rightly feel the need to do more to protect our children,’’ said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that helped forge the agreement.
“While the safety of our children is our highest priority, we must not allow isolated acts of violence to result in reactionary policies. We know that all too often there are unintended consequences of having police in schools. They see their roles as being more than providing safety and often become involved in ordinary disciplinary issues that should be handled by school districts.”
Denver has had a lot of time to study the effectiveness of police in schools. After the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, most schools in the state developed “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies, which included adding police officers to school corridors. About a year ago, the state released its “zero tolerance” disciplinary rules.
Now, parents, activists, and educators in Denver are looking for new ways to handle disciplinary issues. Officials said on Tuesday that they hope that the agreement will help reduce the number of police referrals, suspensions, and expulsions at the city’s schools. It also outlines new methods of reporting disciplinary problems to parents and principals.
“Several years ago, we conducted a survey of high school students with a heavy police presence and the majority said they felt unsafe,” Ricardo Martinez, co-director of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos. “They walked in school, there was a heavy police presence and there was one when they walked out of school.
“The impression was that something was going to happen.
“All of this was in reaction to the school shootings at Columbine. But we are at the point where we don’t want to overreact to situations. It was creating a sense of insecurity rather than a sense of security. We took that to heart.”
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