"School district tries making its Police ‘more guardian than warrior'" PBS NewsHour 1/24/2017
SUMMARY: Since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, there's been an increased police presence at schools. But that presence has also sparked concerns. According to a recent analysis, black students are more likely to be arrested on campus than their white counterparts. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week reports on how the Saint Paul public schools are changing their approach.
KAVITHA CARDOZA, Special correspondent: Minnesota — it's known for the Vikings, Lake Wobegon, and being nice.
But, in the past year, a series of violent interactions within the St. Paul school system has taken center stage, school fights, teacher assaults, and one incident where a visiting Student was arrested for trespassing, all caught on cell phones and, of course, widely shared on social media.
Teachers threatened to strike, the superintendent was fired, and more than 100 students walked out in protest.
Makkah Abdur Salaam is a senior.
MAKKAH ABDUR SALAAM, Student: The truth is, I don't feel safe around police. Like, it's point blank, period.
KAVITHA CARDOZA: Students like Saffiyah Al'Aziz Muhammed say rocky police-civilian relations have filtered down to schools all over the country.
SAFFIYAH AL'AZIZ MOHAMMED, Student: Us seeing all this police brutality in the media, and then going to school, and then your interactions with school police aren't good, it's kind of, like, traumatizing a little bit.
KAVITHA CARDOZA: Nationwide, there were nearly 70,000 arrests during the 2013 school year. And, in most states, black students are far more likely to be arrested, according to an analysis of federal data by the Education Week Research Center.
One reason might be that they are far more likely to be in schools with police officers.
Laura Olson is trying to change the relationship between students and police officers in St. Paul schools.
LAURA OLSON, Saint Paul Public Schools: If students don't feel safe when they come to school, they're not going to be in a position to learn.
KAVITHA CARDOZA: One of the first things she did? Change the uniforms.
Some students expressed that they felt uncomfortable, kind of that paramilitary look. So, over the summer, instead of the hard military-style blue and metal badge, they moved to a more soft blue polo shirt with stitched-on badge.
Officers, known as School Resource Officers, are still armed and carry Tasers, but Olson hopes this softer look makes them more approachable.
Another change? Clarify when SRO's should step in and when should they step aside.