Kid or Criminal?

Another school resource officer was fired today for using what was considered excess force when interacting with a student. As a society, we watch these incidents with outrage (“Nobody better ever do that to my kid!”). As educators we watch with a mixture of indignation (“Come on – I have to deal with these same kids every day without putting hands on them!), resignation (“Come on kid – what did you think was going to happen if you kept being defiant?”), and maybe a tiny twinge of empathy (“What do I do when a kid becomes violent with me?”).

The larger concern is whether we are witnessing educational or criminal issues in these videos? Is the perpetrator of these actions a student or a criminal? And at what point do we move from an educational event to a criminal event that warrants the use of force? These are subtle distinctions that hinge on decisions and resulting actions made in the heat of the moment by troubled students and law enforcement, not education, professionals.

If we are going to run a prison within the walls of the school, then we need to continue to spend time, money, and training on security systems, cameras, metal detectors, guards, and a law enforcement-based presence. If instead we are interested in having an educational system within our school walls, then we need to shift the focus. We need to work on climate and culture issues, building relationships, implementing effective violence prevention practices, and empowering all school stakeholders to have a role in keeping the school safe.

School resource officers need education-based training. They need to acquire an understanding of the unique challenges facing students and teachers and develop a specific skill set to deal with them. We would never send a teacher into the criminal justice system to deal with offenders using the same techniques and capacities used in teaching middle schoolers, yet we are placing law enforcement officers into an educational setting to deal with students (not criminals) without adequate education-based training and dispositions.