Statement on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia
DC Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety & Committee of the Whole
Budget Oversight Hearing for District of Columbia Public Schools,
Office of the State Superintendent of Education, and
Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education
Ahoefa Ananouko, Policy Associate
June 3, 2021
Hello Chairman Mendelson and members of the Council. My name is Ahoefa Ananouko, and I am a Policy Associate at the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia (ACLU-DC). I present this testimony on behalf of our more than 15,000 members and supporters across the District.
The ACLU-DC is committed to working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, safeguard fundamental liberties, eliminate racial disparities, and advocate for transparency and accountability in education.
The ACLU-DC joins students, parents, educators, and partners including the Fair Budget Coalition, Black Swan Academy, Children’s Law Center, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), and the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic & Initiative in calling for police-free schools. We urge the Council to reallocate District dollars currently spent on school police to programs and resources that are proven to be effective at creating healthier, safer, and more equitable school environments for all District students. We support the recommendations made by the D.C. Police Reform Commission to dismantle the school policing infrastructure and reduce interactions between youth and law enforcement.
Police presence in schools is an extension of this nation’s history of using law enforcement and criminalization to control and suppress the rights of Black and Brown people. Beginning in the 1940s, school districts serving majority Black and Brown students began hiring local police departments to patrol and protect school property. School-police liaison and school resource officer programs began in the 50s; and 60s and 70s saw expansion of these programs, as police were brought into schools in a concerted effort by school districts to suppress Black and Brown youth activism for racial justice and other inequities. This increase coincided with an increase in the criminalization of student behaviors, and the characterization of Black and Latinx students as “delinquent” or potentially delinquent.” The trend has continued, as most of the “offenses” youth are arrested at school for are things that would be considered normal adolescent behaviors and trauma responses.
Just this March, police were called on a seven year old boy with autism, who was having difficulties keeping on his mask. In its April 21 testimony before the Council, the Office of the Attorney General shared that “school arrests were concentrated in a limited number of middle and high schools; that most arrests were for low level offenses, mostly simple assault; and that 47 percent of the cases were not prosecuted by [the] office." In the same hearing, several witness, including Justin Ralston, the Principal of Roosevelt High School, and a representative of the Charter School Alliance also testified that Latinx students do not feel supported or protected by SROs or security guards. One witness noted that one particular police officer would always call federal immigration officials. This is in direct violation of the District’s Sanctuary Values law.
The demand for police-free schools is not merely about removing school resource officers (SROs) and contract security guards from school grounds. It is about creating a system of safety that is built upon equity, prioritizes student wellbeing, and fosters a healthy learning environment where all students can thrive. In the District, ratios are stark when we compare the security-to-student to mental health professional-to-student ration. There is one security guard for every 165 students, one social worker for every 254 students, and one mental health counselor for every 529 students. The balance of these ratios calls into question where the priority lies on student wellbeing and safety.
Increased police presence in schools expands the types of roles police play in schools, increases student referrals to police, increases student arrests, and results in accountability issues from student-police contact. It also shifts the focus from learning and supporting students to over-disciplining and criminalization. Students are removed from classes, subjected to physical restraint, interrogation, and other risks to their rights to education, due process, and equal treatment. Black and Brown students, particularly Black girls, and students with disabilities borne the brunt of the negative impacts of school policing. According to the 2019 School Report Card, 100 percent of school-based arrests in D.C. involved students of color. Over 92 percent of those arrested were Black and nearly 8 percent (7.7%) were Latinx. Students with disabilities also made-up 31 percent of all students who are arrested. Black girls are arrested at a rate 30 times that of white girls and boys,12 and 60 percent of girls arrested in D.C. are under the age of 15.
The ACLU-DC acknowledges the concerns about safety and the prevalence of gun violence in communities, and shares these concerns. Testimony from school leaders at the recent hearing on school security held by the Council on April 21, 2021 reinforced that many schools lack sufficient resources to address safety issues, and therefore rely on police to fill the vacuum. The Council should expand community-based violence interruption efforts, increase funding for credible messengers and roving leaders in both schools and communities, and create of school-based violence interrupter teams that are assigned to the designated safe passage priority areas in Wards 1, 5, 6, 7, and 8. We are heartened by the Mayor’s proposed investment of $5.8 million for school-based mental health (SBMH), but ask that the Council allocate the additional $841 thousand needed to fully fund the expansion to all District schools.
Additionally, the Mayor’s proposed budget includes $500 thousand of American Rescue Plan dollars to fund training for school resource officers and school security officers. The ACLU-DC urges the Council to reallocate this funding more appropriately to meet educational supports and other services that would better serve students.
Finally, the ACLU-DC supports the following recommendations from the Police Reform Commission and encourages the Council to take immediate action on them:
- We support the PRC’s recommendation to dismantle the school policing infrastructure and replace it with a holistic public health approach to school safety and crisis intervention that is relational, racially just, restorative, trauma-responsive, and trauma-informed. One of the ways to do this is by eliminating SRO’s and the MPD School Safety Division and creating a community- led process to reallocate those resources. Along, with this, schools should be allowed to bring their security in-house—meaning, they should be allowed to directly hire their security personnel.
- The Council should pass policies that reduce opportunities for youth to be arrested at school. SROs, and any law enforcement generally, should be prohibited from searching, detaining, or arresting youth on campus or at school-related events for non-school-based offenses or custody orders, except for in for instances of violent incidents involving the use of a dangerous weapon. In addition, school personnel (including administrators and teachers), SROs (and any MPD officer), and security personnel should be prohibited from contacting federal immigration agencies. This recommendation is strongly supported by school administrators and aligns with the District’s commitment to being a Sanctuary City.
- One of the complaints we often hear from partners that has also been voiced by Councilmembers is the lack of adequate data from DCPS and OSSE, especially related to student discipline and police interactions. Access to more and better data will improve transparency and help in gaining better understanding of the disparities. We agree with the Police Reform Commission that the Council require MPD to report arrests at schools, including details about what prompted a school to call the police; to report crimes at “School-Based Events” (in the published juvenile arrest data); and to track the types of weapons recovered (in reports on the count of weapons recovered at school). These data should be disaggregated by race, gender, age, and disability.