Young Coloradans are incredibly passionate about this election, but many can’t vote themselves. So we asked teens what they wanted voters to keep in mind as they cast their ballots this November.
DENVER POST TEEN COLUMNISTS
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Here’s what they have to say about the police’s role in local schools.
Read what teens have to say about the presidential race, Colorado’s senate race, COVID in schools and climate change.
I vividly remember the day I made my way to the school resource officer’s office at Rangeview High School. I took two steps into the room before I stopped in shock. In front of me hung a “blue lives matter” flag. As a Latina, I no longer felt safe; I shut down. In schools like mine, Black and Latinx students make up the majority of the student body meaning that the amount of police presence is significantly larger when compared to a predominantly white school. Not only is there a negative stigma of police in our black and brown communities due to the history of police brutality, oftentimes these officers are trained to deescalate any altercation in our student body by any means necessary. I’ve seen officers slam students to the ground, reach for their waistband, and treat students as though they were inferior. In the eyes of these officers, our streets are prone to gang and drug violence. It was in my hometown that Elijah McClain’s life was taken.
To a white student, that “blue lives matter” flag in the SROs office may just be an expression of free speech; that is definitely the justification our administration used when I expressed my discomfort. But to me, to black and brown students, that flag is a reminder of the power complex that oppresses our community, that flag screams “look at me, look at my power … I have the power to kill you.”
I cannot fathom that police departments have larger budgets than schools when it’s the teachers who are preparing us to enter society. The police in our schools just serve as a reminder that no matter how educated we are, the color of our skin makes us a “threat.” Surely police presence in low income, Black communities is linked to high drop out rates … I’ve seen it with my own eyes. All it takes is one misunderstanding, a bad experience with a police officer or a “no tolerance policy” for these students of color to never step foot in a school again. How can school be a safe space when you put us in the same cage with our biggest predator? I hope that “blue lives matter” flag in my school gets taken down, that Aurora Public Schools follows the lead of Denver Public Schools and School Board Member Tay Anderson and removes police from schools. Hopefully, one day the life of students of color will be more important that this power complex perpetuated by police presence in schools.
— Myriam Alcala, 18, University of Southern California, graduated from Rangeview High School
The debate of how to best keep students in school safe is a decades-old argument. In many schools, the answer has been police. An officer in charge of maintaining security in the school, often called the SRO, can be found in many schools across the state and country, including my own. However, with the extreme scrutiny that police officers are facing lately, many of these positions may be on the chopping block. But I believe this should not be the case.
Security in schools is essential. We have seen it time and time again, schools without security are most at risk for tragedy. Colorado’s own Columbine High School massacre is evidence of this, and it goes to prove another point: those who intend to do evil will not be stopped by laws. A Tec-9 automatic pistol was used in the Columbine massacre, despite the fact that such weapons were, at the time, illegal under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
Once a person has made the decision to inflict such harm upon students, a “Gun-Free Zone” sign will not stop them. In fact, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, since 1950, 94% of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones. That being the case, laws alone are demonstrably not a deterrent. So then, it is only logical that we have immediate protection from evildoers.
The 2018 FBI Active Shooter Report found that a mass shooting attempt was stopped 75.8% of the time when an armed citizen was present, and lives were saved 94% of the time. Had an officer been immediately present during the Columbine massacre, the lives of 13 innocent people could have been saved. Regardless of your opinions of police, student safety must come before politics. And if having police in schools is the most effective option for student safety, we must act on that.
— Dylan Sharrock, 16, Coal Ridge High School
In 2015, police were called to a school in Texas after his teacher confiscated the clock he had reassembled, believing it resembled a bomb. The police then handcuffed him and took him into custody. According to local police, the reason behind the arrest was the belief that he may have intentionally caused a bomb scare.
In 2020, around two-thirds of students in America attend school with a police officer. At first glance, this seems to be caused by a goal that many people share—keeping schools safe in an education system that has become increasingly dangerous. But looking beyond the surface reveals a dark truth, one including cases of excessive force, racial bias, and the aptly named School To Prison system.
In many cases, interrogations of students are done without the presence of a parent or legal guardian. Even when, as in the case of the “brownie” incident that is best described as infamous, the culprit is as young as nine years old.
Time and time again, evidence has proven that schools and communities that are largely populated by POC and the poor—who, oftentimes are the same demographic—are more overpoliced than richer and whiter ones.
According to an analysis of Education Department data by the Southern Poverty Law Center, fewer than four percent of students were suspended in 1973. With the rise of zero-tolerance policies, this number has risen, but discipline has also in many cases been turned over to the Juvenile Justice System. Meaning that, more often, small offenses such as getting into a fight or skipping class will lead to a student having a record. Which makes it so that even if the punishment is light, future offenses will often have harsher ones. Thus, with increasingly policed schools, students are much more likely to end up in jail, even for minor offenses.
At the end of the day, the cases of police presence in schools bring up two major questions; is it right to instill such an intense fear of the police in children? And—in a country that resembles a police state more and more—do we really want to give the police more power than they already have? As November rapidly approaches, these questions are left up to voters to answer.
— Brendalynn Toni Scott, 15, Homeschool
Two school shootings have indirectly impacted my life. The first took place at a high school down the street from my elementary school when I was in 4th grade. The second was during my freshman year at another high school 15 minutes away from mine. Following both incidents, I remember my mind tumbling frantically through all the “what if” scenarios. What if I had been there?
These experiences make me extremely grateful for the SROs in my district. However, I’m realizing more and more that SROs are not a comforting sight for all students. Creating a learning environment where every student feels safe needs to be a top priority for us as a society; so what should be done about SROs?
In a 2018 study by the Education Week Research Center, 34% of SROs surveyed said the schools they work for do not specify which types of disciplinary issues they are allowed to intervene in. Additionally, while 93% of SROs were trained in responding to active shooters, only 39% were trained in child trauma and 37% on the teen brain. These statistics reveal two main problems: unclear duties and inadequate training for SROs. First, schools must ensure an SRO’s duties are clearly outlined and restricted. For example, SROs should not be used to enforce classroom disciplinary actions (e.g. tardiness, defiance). If there is no immediate physical threat to the safety of students and staff, SROs should not be involved. Additionally, SROs throughout the country must be held to the same standards. This can be accomplished through a required, nationwide training and certification program that covers a wide range of topics, such as de-escalation, mental health, learning disabilities, the teen brain, and responding to active shooters.
School shootings are not a new issue, but if we do not take proper action against them, nothing will change. We must continually strive for better mental health resources. We must improve and regulate the quality of SRO training and guidelines. We must take action to show our leaders our concerns and help schools receive the funding necessary to make such improvements. It will take time and effort, but we have the power to make schools safer for all students.
— Hailey Sloan, 16, Heritage High School
Ever since the 90’s, police officers, or SROs, have increased their presence in schools, tasked with preventing school shootings and enhancing general safety. Now, 30 years after schools started employing the police, we are beginning to see the long term impacts — and they aren’t positive.
If the purpose of SROs is to prevent school violence and school shootings, they’re accomplishing the opposite. There is no evidence that SROs prevent shootings or any type of in-school violence. Conversely, the presence of SROs promotes punishment, arrests, and excessive force instead of acknowledging student’s struggles and providing mental health help. Fifteen to twenty percent of delinquency referrals alone are for fights, harassment, and disorderly conduct even though officers are prohibited from involvement in school-related misconduct. Worse, these referrals disproportionately target people of color and students with disabilities. In Florida, for instance, Black youth, “who represented only 22 percent of the overall juvenile population, accounted for 47 percent of all school-based delinquency referrals; youth with special needs accounted for 23 percent of all school-based referrals.” Clearly, not only is a police presence in schools unnecessary, but it’s also detrimental to non-white and disabled youth.
Treating children like criminals has consequences; Unjustified school-based arrests and referrals can double an individual’s risk of dropping out, and, “with a court appearance, nearly quadruples the odds of dropout.” Overall, arrest lowers standardized test scores, reduces employment opportunities, and makes future arrests more likely. An officer, there to uphold safety and manage conflict, shouldn’t launch students into a future of the opposite. These statistics also aren’t a problem that a better-trained police force can solve, so why are we turning to SROs to do precisely that? The very concept of placing officers, trained to arrest, manage dangerous situations, and work with adults, in schools, is flawed.
These officers have little required training in child psychology (40 hours or less) and conflict de-escalation, but a career’s worth of the things listed above — exactly why it’s disturbing but unsurprising that in the past five years, police handcuffed and arrested ten six to ten-year-olds on campus for fighting, an officer choked a 13-year-old until he was unconscious (the boy pushed the officer), officers handcuffed a six-year-old special needs student (he ran from class). Three officers pinned down a 16-year-old girl (caught using her phone in class). The list goes on. The solution, however, is clear: the police have no place in schools.
— Sophia Joyce Charles, 15, Denver East High School
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