WASHINGTON – More than two thirds of students think police should be removed from schools; one in five students reported police verbally harass or make fun of young people in school; and, two out of every five young people surveyed felt unsafe seeing police in schools, according to a new survey released by the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). The new report Arrested Learning: A survey of youth experiences of police and security at school, outlines the results of a survey of over 600 students on their experiences, interactions, and feelings about police and security at school. The report shows that students often feel targeted by police; that they have seen sexual harassment by police; that they have regular, negative interactions with police and security; and that they overwhelmingly favor additional resources and supports (like mental health resources, more teachers, and dedicated youth programs to increase college access) over more funding for police and security.
The report is a result of a national survey from four community-based organizations in New York, New Jersey, Nevada and Oregon: Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Make the Road New Jersey (MRNJ), Make the Road Nevada (MRNV) and Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS).
For more than three decades, Black and brown young people, parents, educators, and communities have organized to dismantle the school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline. As a core feature of that fight, young people have relentlessly called to remove police from schools. The results of this survey clearly reinforce what young people have already known to be true: police and security at school do not make them safe.
“The school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline is one of the most egregious examples of systemic racism and state-sanctioned violence in our country,” said Kate Terenzi, Senior Policy and Campaign Strategist, Center for Popular Democracy. “For too long abusive policing has dominated school hallways and stifled students’ education, funneling them into the criminal legal system. Students deserve more than an education system that is hell-bent on criminalizing them instead of providing them with the resources they need to succeed.”
Additional findings include:
- Respondents have experienced a pattern of disturbing behavior in which school police.
- For example, one in five respondents reported police verbally harass or make fun of students (20.3% of respondents).
- In three out of four surveyed jurisdictions, young people experienced or knew someone who experienced sexual harassment at the hands of police at school.
- Police and security at schools do not make students feel safe, especially compared to other people they interact with at school, like teachers and friends.
- More than two thirds of students think police should be removed from schools.
- When asked what makes respondents feel safe (when physically attending school), 83.7% selected friends and 62.7% selected teachers, versus only 15.6% who selected police.
- 41% of young people surveyed feel “very unsafe” or “unsafe” when they see police at school.
- Black and Latinx respondents were more likely to be targeted at metal detectors than white respondents.
- 52.6% of respondents who described their schools as majority Black and 55.7% of those who described their schools as majority Black and Brown reported going through metal detectors daily or multiple times a day, compared to 10.8% of respondents who described their schools as majority white.
- In addition: 34.1% of Black respondents have had their belongings taken, compared to 14.5% of white respondents; 19.4% of Black respondents have been yelled at, compared to 7.9% of white respondents; 34.1% of Black respondents and 22.1% of Latinx respondents have been made to take off their shoes, versus 6.6% of white respondents.
- When asked what they would like to see more or better quality of at school, students overwhelmingly selected resources, programs, and supports–not police or security.
- For example, 78.4% of respondents answered dedicated youth-led programs to increase access to college and financial aid.
Whether in New York, New Jersey, Nevada, or Oregon, the data in Arrested Learning: A survey of youth experiences of police and security at school makes clear that the presence of police does not support students’ learning and that young people across the country believe in police-free schools.
“To have police officers at school is a reminder that we must be on guard. Whenever I walk by an officer I hold my breath, take my hands out of my pocket, and try to stand up straight. I’m scared. Now I know half of the young people in our district probably feel the same way. We need police free schools,” said Desiree Reyes, Youth Member, Make the Road Nevada. “Not only that, the police are regularly pepper spraying young people —an act that would be considered a war crime in other circumstances.” In Clark County, NV more than a quarter of students surveyed have, or personally know someone who has, been pepper sprayed by school police.
“Seeing the statistics from our survey makes me feel disgusted and angry. These are the experiences of young children and teenagers across the country, yet it feels personal because they reflect how I feel. At school, police don’t make me feel safe, Instead, they make me feel like I did something wrong. I feel scared that I could be hurt by the school police,” said Corrine Blake, Youth Leader, Urban Youth Collaborative in New York “What did we do to deserve police in our schools? We deserve supports and resources, not police.”
“Police free schools are just the beginning of dismantling a whole system of policing, which includes policies, attitudes and institutions that place students in the criminal justice system. When we divest funds that go into placing police officers in our schools, we have to reinvest those funds into the education of our young people most impacted by the school to prison and deportation pipeline,” said a youth leader from Latinos Unidos Siempre in Salem, Oregon. “When we asked young people what they wanted to see more of in their schools, students ranked teachers and mental health support as their highest priorities. More than 90% of students want culturally responsive education.”
CPD and youth organizers across the country are calling for the Biden administration, Congress, state and local officials to adopt the Youth Mandate for Education and Liberation. Endorsed by more than 150 organizations, the Youth Mandate demands that officials fund education, not incarceration, restore and strengthen young people’s civil rights in education, uplift public education and end the private takeover of schools. The demands emanate from years of local fights to dismantle the school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline.