Read CVPE's letter to the HISD School Board Policing Task Force, proposed by HISD School Board President Sue Diegaard during the Summer 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Included in the letter are recommendations for changes needed in HISD regarding policing and the group's rationale behind the recommendations.
Community Voices for Public Education (CVPE) would like to congratulate you on your selection to Houston ISD’s policing task force. We understand the weight on your shoulders as you seek to reimagine school safety is not a light one. Balancing the genuine safety concerns from students and parents while understanding the frequent injustices perpetuated by police will require bold action on your part. This work, however difficult, is necessary to creating school environments that encourage students to learn from their mistakes and grow into healthy, vibrant adults.
Dozens of CVPE members - composed of HISD students, teachers, and community members - spent months following the massive unrest seen across the country after the murder of George Floyd to formulate the organization’s position on how public safety needed to be reimagined in HISD. We took our cues from the demands made by the Movement for Black Lives and combined research-based approaches to formulate what we saw as the path forward when it came to police and discipline in schools. Overall, our research and discussions led us to these foundational ideas:
- Supportive approaches to school climate create safer, more inclusive schools than punitive approaches
- Policing and surveillance infrastructure in schools fails to increase safety and causes great harm to young people
- Policing and punitive discipline, on top of being ineffective and discriminatory, is also incredibly expensive, diverting funds that could be used for supports and resources for young people
- Policing and security infrastructure, such as metal detectors, fail to mitigate against school shootings
There are too many stories from HISD students and parents of children having to endure humiliating perp walks, overreactions from inexperienced or fearful staff, physical violence, and lasting emotional and mental trauma as a result of our punish-first policies. Furthermore, HISD’s budget also shows worrying priorities. HISD’s 2019-2020 budget book gives a breakdown of how the $8,035 allocation per student is spent around the district. Security and monitoring services consisted of 1.45% of this allocation. While seemingly not significant in terms of the overall budget, consider that extracurricular services comprised of 1.12% of the budget; instructional leadership, 1.18%; and community services, 0.13%. Children, however young, must be seen as the individuals they are: bright, ready-to-succeed, and, yes, imperfect. Policy and funding must reflect this reality.
Problems are easy to come by; however, solutions were also discussed in our group. We are seeing action being taken by school districts across the country to accomplish their reimagining safety goals. Teachers in the organization emphasized the use of restorative justice tactics or other creative procedures to move away from punitive measures against their children. Using a program that pairs campus adults with children when the child is feeling especially angry, for example, has shown positive results for the school environment, according to HISD teachers. Nationwide, school boards in St. Paul, Minnesota; Oakland, California; Seattle, Washington; and San Francisco, California, have suspended or dismantled their school policing programs. HISD has solutions at the helm. We do not have to wait for a tragedy to occur on our campuses in order to act.
As a result of these findings, CVPE agreed on the following six recommendations for the policing task force:
- Have the policing task force that was mentioned by Board President Deigaard actually meet, with members of the task force publicized and all meetings be made available to the public
- Stop the practice of arresting students on campus – except for instances of extremely egregious crime like murder – as this is often accompanied with humiliating perp walks that further traumatize students and move the responsibility of behavioral issues from schools to the criminal justice system
- Stop having police officers use handcuffs, pepper spray, and other dangerous weapons on students and move any resources spent on these items toward funding counselors, social workers, and other resources
- Ban any officer with prior history of excessive force from working in and around schools
- Instead of leaning on punitive measures as a response to behavioral issues, use restorative justice tactics, teen courts, among other ideas to properly address these issues, moving funds from policing to funding these programs
- Keep police officers from being involved in the enforcement of mask orders when schools return to face-to-face instruction, which could lead to violent outcomes and harassment of Black and brown students
CVPE members were proud to have met with Trustee Sung and Trustee Blueford-Daniels to express their fears, thoughts, and aspirations for HISD. Several others have spoken at HISD board meetings to express similar ideas. We are excited that the task force is meeting in partial completion of our first recommendation. On the other hand, we do continue to push for open, transparent meetings and fulfillment of the five other recommendations cited above. HISD was a leader in school safety when it pushed back face-to-face instruction earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; we can be a leader again when it comes to reimagining school safety.
Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns regarding our research, recommendations, or any other topic. Thank you for your time and service.
Members of Community Voices for Public Education
Nance, Jason P., “Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Arizona State Law Journal 48, p. 352-353, 2016, https://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1783&context=facultypub.
Theriot, Matthew T., School Resource Officers and the Criminalization of Student Behavior, 37 J. CRIM. JUST. Q. 280, 285, 2009; see also Jason P. Nance, Students, Police, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
National Center for Education Statistics, “Percentage of public schools with security staff present at least once a week, and percentage with security staff routinely carrying a firearm, by selected school characteristics: 2005-06 through 2015-16.” https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_233.70.asp.
Inside the $3 Billion School Security Industry: Companies Market Sophisticated Technology to ‘Harden’ Campuses, but Will It Make Us Safe?, 74 MILLION, available at https://www.the74million.org/article/inside-the-3-billion-school-security-industry-companies-marketsophisticated-technology-to-harden-campuses-but-will-it-make-us-safe/.
Ingraham, Christopher. “For many mass shooters, armed guards aren’t a deterrent, they’re part of the fantasy,” Washington Post, March 1, 2018.
Society 43, issue 4 (2011): 486-498. 14 Sherman, Amy. “How Do We Prevent School Shootings,” Politifact, Feb. 15, 2018. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/feb/15/ how-do-we-prevent-school-shootings/; Saslow, Eli. “Stoneman Douglas resource officer remains haunted by massacre,” The Washington Post, June 4, 2018 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/it-was-my-job-and-i-didnt-find- him-stoneman-douglasresource-officer-remains-haunted-by-massacre/2018/06/04/796f1c16-679d-11e8-9e38- 24e693b38637_story.html?utm_term=.588f599e0a51.
Houston ISD. “2019-2020 Adopted Budget Book Informational Section.” Adopted 2019-2020 Budget Book. Accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.houstonisd.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=289084&dataid=266545&FileName=Adopted%20Budget%20Book%20w%20bookmarks.pdf.
Sawchuck, Stephen. “More School Districts Sever Ties with Police. Will Others Follow?” Education Week, June 26, 2020. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/06/26/more-school-districts-sever-ties-with-police.html.