June 22, 2022

More Cops in Schools than Nurses Harmful to Students, ACLU Study Finds

More Cops in Schools than Nurses Harmful to Students, ACLU Study Finds

It's no secret that America's schools are increasingly becoming places of violence and crime. In the wake of mass shootings such as Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Uvalde, many schools have beefed up security by prioritizing law enforcement officer staffing. However, this increased presence of police in schools has not made students any safer. In fact, according to a recent study by the ACLU, it has had the opposite effect, leading to the criminalization of students instead of providing them with the support they need.

The study found that while the number of school nurses and other healthcare and mental support staff has remained stagnant, the number of law enforcement officers in schools has more than doubled since the early 1990s. The ACLU study discovered that 14 million school students do not have access to a nurse, counselor, psychologist, or social worker but instead are overseen by law enforcement.

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This shift in priorities has profoundly impacted how students are treated, particularly those with mental health issues. Instead of receiving the care and support they need, students' behavior results in criminalization. In one disturbing example cited by the ACLU, a school resource officer Tasered a 14-year-old autistic student after the student threw a tantrum in class.

This increased presence of law enforcement in schools does nothing to address the root causes of violence and crime, such as poverty, racism, and lack of access to mental health services. It also does not help identify students who may be struggling with mental health issues or socioeconomic problems. On the other hand, school nurses are trained to deal with these problems and can provide students with the support they need.

Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of school nurses across the country. According to the National Association of School Nurses, there should be at least one nurse per 750 students in school. The reality, however, is that there is fewer than one nurse for every 1,000 students in the United States. With so few nurses available, many schools cannot provide essential services such as health screenings and immunizations, let alone more advanced mental health and socioeconomic assessments. This shortage is having a significant impact on the quality of care students are receiving.

Why We Increased Law Enforcement Presence in Schools

The increased presence of law enforcement in schools is a direct response to the rise in school shootings over the past few years. In the wake of tragedies like Sandy Hook and Parkland, many schools have beefed up security by hiring more police officers and security guards. The thinking behind this is that more officers will deter would-be shooters and make it easier to respond to an active shooter situation.

However, there is growing evidence that this approach to school safety is not practical and can do more harm than good. For one thing, research has shown that having more police in schools does not deter shootings. In fact, there is no clear evidence that police make schools any safer at all.

But even if we accept the logic that police officers should make schools safer, there are other problems with putting more cops in schools. One of the most significant is that it can lead to the criminalization of students, especially students of color.

Criminalization of Students Exacerbates the Problem

When police are present in schools, students are more likely to be arrested and charged with crimes. This is especially true for minor offenses like disorderly conduct and truancy. In many cases, these offenses would not even be considered crimes if they took place off school grounds. But because they occur on school property, students can be subject to the criminal justice system.

This increased presence of law enforcement also disproportionately affects students of color. Black and Latino students are more likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested by school police than their white peers. They are also more likely to be referred to law enforcement by school staff. This can have a lifelong impact on these students, as having a criminal record can make it harder to get a job or go to college.

More Nurses in Schools Could Make a Difference

While schools increasingly rely on law enforcement to address student discipline, this approach does not address the underlying causes of disciplinary problems. A better solution is to increase the number of school nurses in schools.

School nurses are trained to deal with various health and behavioral issues and can provide vital support to students.  They can also help identify mental health and socioeconomic issues that may contribute to disciplinary problems.

How to Get More Nurses in Schools

The school nurse shortage is a significant problem in many parts of the country. In some states, there is only one school nurse for every 1,000 students. This shortage leaves nurses overworked and unable to provide the level of care students need.

There are many ways to get more school nurses into schools. One is to offer scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to encourage people to become school nurses. Another is to increase funding for school nurse positions.

You Can Help by Becoming a School Nurse

More nurses in schools could make a tremendous difference in children's early identification and treatment of mental health problems and socioeconomic issues. The school nurse shortage is a real problem, and what's being done to get more school nurses isn't working. 

If you want to make a difference in students' lives, consider becoming a school nurse. To learn more about how to become a school nurse, visit our school nurse career guide. With your help, we can ensure that all students have access to the care and support they need to succeed. 

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