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New Study Reveals Florida’s School Policing Mandate Has Increased Negative Outcomes for Students

In response to the study’s findings, advocates call for the repeal of the school policing mandate and demand local discretion over whether and how police should be involved in schools

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The heightened presence of police officers in Florida schools in the past two years has led to an unprecedented increase in school arrests, according to a new study. A collaborative project led by the ACLU of Florida, Florida Social Justice in Schools Project, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the League of Women Voters of Florida and Equality Florida, the study — The Cost of School Policing — analyzes the impact of the Florida Legislature’s decision to mandate every public school to have an officer or security personnel onsite. 

Based on data collected by the state government, the study finds that students in Florida’s schools are now more likely to interact with law enforcement at school than a nurse, a social worker or a school psychologist. During the 2018-19 school year, the most recent publicly available data, there were more than 3,600 police officers working in Florida schools while there were only 2,286 school nurses, which is a first for Florida schools. Meanwhile, the number of police officers in schools is more than double the number of school social workers and school psychologists. 

“Florida is failing to meet the needs of its students,” said Michelle Morton, research coordinator and policy counsel, ACLU of Florida.  “The security measures implemented by our state due to the fear of mass shootings have created school environments that are not conducive to learning. School has become a primary source of stress for many students. The percentage of youth arrests happening at school hit a five-year high of 20 percent. We need to invest in better solutions.” 

The study includes a quantitative analysis by F. Chris Curran, Ph.D., associate professor and director, University of Florida Education Policy Research Center, to examine how police presence in Florida schools influences behavior incidents and arrest rates.

“Law enforcement presence in schools has increased rapidly in Florida over the last several years and particularly as a response to the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” said Professor Chris Curran. “This study is the first to systematically examine the potential impacts of this increase in law enforcement in Florida schools on student outcomes.  Consistent with prior research on school policing elsewhere, the findings suggest that the presence of law enforcement in schools increases the likelihood that student behavior is reported to law enforcement and results in arrest. What’s more, there is little evidence that the presence of law enforcement has decreased student misconduct or otherwise made schools safer. The study suggests the need for dialogue among policymakers and educators about whether law enforcement presence is appropriate in schools, and, if present, how they are used.”

In reaction to the study’s findings and to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on school budgets, advocacy groups urge policymakers to repeal the school policing mandate and account for the costs of using already scarce resources to enhance police presence at schools that struggle to provide enough textbooks and, now, hand sanitizer for their students. 

“Lawmakers and the MSD High School Public Safety Commission need to rethink these policies. They  have had the unintended consequences of making schools less safe, more hostile and harmful for too many of Florida’s students,” said Bacardi Jackson, managing attorney at SPLC Action Fund. “From pushes for the proliferation of guns in the hands of inadequately trained civilians on school campuses to Florida’s excessive and unprecedented use of the Baker Act on over 35,000 children a year, our lawmakers have erected far too many barriers to creating safe and effective learning environments in which all children can thrive. It is our earnest hope that the next legislative session will take seriously the findings of this study, fund services that support the health and wellbeing of students, not their criminalization, and bring meaningful changes in laws affecting our most vulnerable and youngest school-age children.” 

Beyond calling for the repeal of the mandate, the statewide study included recommendations for state policymakers to mitigate the harm of increased school policing. It urges lawmakers to pass minimum requirements for training of police in schools, a minimum age for arrest and limitations on the use of force, including tasers and pepper spray, against children. Additionally, it calls for the employment of student support professionals, such as counselors, social workers and school psychologists, in adequate numbers to prevent unnecessary referrals to law enforcement.

“In the past five years, police officers arrested kids younger than 11 years old 2,164 times. In fiscal year 2018-19 alone, police officers arrested elementary-aged kids 345 times, including an arrest of a five-year-old and five arrests of six-year-olds. This is simply not okay,” said Charlotte Nycklemoe, LWVFL Juvenile Justice Committee Co-Chair. “For too long our lawmakers have failed to set a minimum age of arrest, and it is children and their parents who bear the brunt of that trauma. If we want to create safer environments in our schools, we need to create policies that protect our students, not expose them to the harms of over-policing.” 

The study also includes profiles for each county and provides recommendations to local school districts, which still hold some discretion despite the statewide mandate. It calls for the adoption of student codes of conduct with consequences clearly outlined for specified behavior that limit the involvement of law enforcement to those situations posing immediate safety risks, among other measures to address disciplinary issues and limit undue student contact with the justice system. 

A copy of the study is available here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/school_policing_report_2018-19.pdf