By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
For too long our education system has been intertwined with the criminal legal system and the results have been tragic, particularly for our most vulnerable students. – Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, (D. MA)
Kevin Dalton, president of Toledo Federation of Teachers Local 250, demands that the Toledo Public School Board use American Rescue Plan (ARP) dollars to triple the police presence inside its schools.
The increased police force, Dalton claimed last week in an impassioned social media post, “will not only make schools safer but maintain instructional integrity and create a more effective and efficient classroom environment for our students to learn.”
Academic studies, however, provide strong evidence that more police lead to adverse outcomes and make schools less conducive to learning. Often, police presence establishes a conveyor for students of color to be funneled away from graduation or college enrollment and into the criminal justice system.
Although Black students comprise only 44 percent of TPS’s 23,000 students, they represent 75 percent of those expelled and 70 percent of those charged with Safe School Ordinance (Juvenile Court) violations, according to publicly available data.
With swirling rhetoric on rising crime and “defund the police” on a collision course to become the ultimate wedge political issue of 2022, I went directly to Dalton to discuss his proposal.
Here is our conversation:
Perryman: Please explain your Facebook comments about tripling the police force in schools.
Dalton: The Toledo teachers call on the district to utilize some of the ARP dollars to enhance the instructional integrity and school system. To be clear, tripling the police presence is part of a long-term strategy to help create systemic change around optics regarding the national narrative on policing.
Perryman: Why triple the police?
Dalton: Many times, when law enforcement is called upon within our schools, everybody is potentially or already in crisis mode. That leads to a lot of negative experiences.
So, our plan concerns creating more positive experiences, not just for the police, but also for the kids and how the kids and police interact. Hopefully this will translate into positive experiences and engagement outside the school buildings and during afterschool hours or even later in life for some of these students.
Perryman: A lot of research concludes that more police result in less positive experiences for kids. There’s proposed legislation such as the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, which suggests that funds be invested in mental health counselors or social workers rather than police. What is your response?
Dalton: I believe we can invest in both. I believe that we can also look at school resource officer training for individuals looking to work inside schools. We can also talk with law enforcement to create a better training model by getting their perspective on our effectiveness or deficiencies.
I’ve also read some of the research about more police have led to more arrests. Again, in some of the instances, it’s because of the training or the lack of communication that needed to occur.
Perryman: Do you have a specific plan for training that will provide de-escalation skills to police and add skilled workers like mental health clinicians, social workers, etc.? Or are you essentially wanting to triple the police first and then wing it the rest of the way?
Dalton: I wouldn’t call it winging. First, we want to see because there are ARP dollars across the board coming in from the feds. We also know that there are dollars being specifically designated to address students’ mental health issues and families of various communities as well and those dollars are already designated for that. I know that tripling the police sounds very provocative without all the other context that I’m providing. Still, the plan would be to converge these two conversations, and truthfully, we need to be working together with law enforcement.
I want to work with law enforcement and school resource officer (SRO) training people that develop the curriculum and say ‘okay, where are the deficiencies, where are the opportunities? What could we have done better before you go to the schools?’
On the other side, we absolutely need to do a better job of getting agencies in our buildings that are truly assisting students. Nothing frustrates me more than when I see all these agencies champing at the bit because they think they can make money off our students, but they’re really not helping. We have to do a better job of vetting those agencies before coming into our buildings because there are a lot of funds out there that can be accessed. However, they must be accessed appropriately and done correctly following what students and families need. That ensures a much more significant impact, and we would have much fewer discipline issues in and out of the buildings.
Perryman: I spoke with Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz about your remarks. He doubts that anyone thinks that we should not have police in the schools, which is debatable because CSRN has demanded that police be removed from TPS facilities. In addition, Columbus City Schools and schools in Denver have discontinued their contracts with city police departments. However, our mayor’s focus is on having the correct number of law enforcement rather than none, because he feels that there is a role for police in schools if done right. What is the “correct number”?
Dalton: If you look at the national standard for policing, I think they call for 3.4 police per 1,000 people. My goal would be to try to have one law enforcement person per building. That gets us closer to that ratio to provide the opportunity to be more proactive than reactive when it comes to scenarios and positive experiences between law enforcement and students.
Perryman: Have you considered allowing the parents and the students in those communities to decide themselves whether or not they want additional policing?
Dalton: I think it would be very short-sighted if we did not include the community in those conversations. I’ve done some polling on this, and the numbers were higher than I expected. For example, 77 percent of those registered voters polled support police officers in our schools. Seventy eight percent of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents across the board support officers. Seventy seven percent of whites and 75 percent African Americans indicated support. Probably the most important constituent of the survey though, were school parents, who polled at 79 percent support.
Perryman: Have you considered other effective and evidenced-based disciplinary solutions such as Restorative Justice or Conferencing Circles? Are you familiar with those?
Dalton: I absolutely am familiar and a big advocate. Restorative practices, socio-emotional learning, morning circle, all have some of the same intentions. I think what we need to do as a school district and, quite honestly, as a community, is to identify a program that works and make it part of the everyday language of what we’re trying to accomplish. Then, we can implement it for Toledo Public Schools specifically. It can’t be just words alone or just a one-and-done training. It has to also come with the resources that go along with these programs and require follow-through. Too often, we try to do something, and it doesn’t have the follow-through. People then become very impatient with it because they don’t feel that there’s any reciprocity with the energy being given to try to do these things.
Perryman: So where do we go from here? There’s a recent legal settlement between TPS and the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights division that addresses disparate impact in discipline for black, children of color, and children with disabilities.
How do we tie together your intentions with your institutional shortcomings while also improving cultural competence?
Dalton: That’s a great question. Let me say first what we can’t do. We can’t look for an excuse not to do something better for our kids. With that being said, I think we take advantage of the resources and opportunities we have now. We look at the resources that we have currently allocated internally to see if there is a more effective and efficient way to distribute those.
We need to do a better job of not reevaluating, but evaluating the training that we do, the resources that we spend, and those really meeting the priorities that our families and students need. If they’re not, then let’s blow it up, bring it back together and create a system that does.
Perryman: Speaking of evaluation, is there something that you can promise or put at the top of your priority list?
Dalton: Sure. You might call it a promise, but one of the commitments that I will make is that we’re not going to propose plans and/or implement things without talking to pretty much everyone. If there’s going to be pushback, at the end of the day I want to know about it because if you don’t know about it, it’s a sure sign for an obstacle later.
The commitment would be to put together these plans and identify priorities. We’re going to make sure that we’re doing polling, market research, and meeting with groups and reaching out. That would be our commitment.
Perryman: So, how can community groups tangibly measure your commitment?
Dalton: You can come back in six months and say, ‘Kevin, you never did talk to Scott Sylak at Mental Health Board. Kevin, you never did talk to faith leaders about what’s going on with the churches.’ You can go back and check and see if we’re pushing for professional development around cultural competency and how we’re engaging that. That would probably be one great way to know if we’re actually doing what we say we’re doing.
Perryman: Finally, there’s also research that shows that there are school districts located in high crime areas in other cities similar to Toledo that have had zero arrests. Some of these districts have police in the schools without the discipline disparities that we see locally.
Kapszukiewicz also concedes that too many police in schools can heighten anxiety and make learning difficult.
So, to me, the solution appears to be a matter of culturally competent input from the community and strictly defining the role that the police officers will play. Those aforementioned, other drama-free school districts are not allowing law enforcement to get involved in disciplinary issues. Police only intervene when someone brings a gun to school or somebody’s life is in danger. That is, perhaps, a reflection of quality leadership on the part of the police department as well.
Dalton: I’m always open for conversation because I need to know where everyone’s at on issues on behalf of our members. I engage our teachers a lot. I try to engage the community a lot. I try to do my background, my research before going out and saying something too flippant. Sometimes I get the better of myself, you know how that goes, but at the end of the day, we want awesome classrooms for awesome kids and awesome communities.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org