New legislation requires data collection, promotes transparency
NEW ORLEANS – As the presence of law enforcement officers in schools continue to grow in Louisiana and nationally, school policing data is not being made readily available to Louisiana’s citizens as required by federal law, according to a report that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released today.
The report, The Data Gap: School Policing in Louisiana, analyzes the lack of data needed to measure the effectiveness of school policing programs – data that can help determine whether taxpayer dollars should be used to create and expand such programs, evaluate whether schools are complying with federal anti-discrimination laws, and measure whether schools are safe and welcoming for all students. The report was authored by Cheyenne Blackburn, SPLC Children’s Rights outreach paralegal.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights collects data from public schools to ensure they do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or disability. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act additionally requires data collection on school quality, climate and safety. However, Louisiana school districts are not consistently meeting federal data requirements, according to Blackburn’s report.
“Without this data, it is impossible to know whether tax dollars are being responsibly spent to ensure the safety and well-being of all students,” said Karen Baynes-Dunning, interim president and CEO for the SPLC. “Comprehensive data collection and reporting is essential to help school officials create and maintain safe and welcoming learning environments for every student. Research shows that students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by the presence of school resource officers.”
Blackburn surveyed eight school districts in the “Florida Parishes” region of Louisiana: Bogalusa City Schools, Livingston Parish Public Schools, Northshore Charter School, St. Helena Parish School District, St. Tammany Parish Public School System, Tangi Academy, Tangipahoa Parish School System, and Washington Parish School System – as well as the parishes’ law enforcement agencies – for data on school-based arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
Only two school districts provided data broken down into various categories such as students’ race, sex and disability status – as required by federal law. Three districts said they had no such records. Others provided incomplete or inaccurate data. The SPLC was unable to determine the number of school resource officers in these school districts from the records collected by Blackburn.
To address the gaps in what school discipline and school policing data must be reported under Louisiana compared to federal law, in the 2019 legislative session, the SPLC worked with state Rep. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans, to pass the Louisiana School Data Compliance Act. The legislation was signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 6, becoming Act 148. It goes into effect on Aug. 1.
“Act 148 will bring transparency and accountability to Louisiana’s public schools,” Baynes-Dunning said. “By collecting and analyzing more comprehensive data, school officials and parents alike will be able to promote the use of evidence-based programs to ensure that all our children are safe and being treated fairly in the classroom.”
The SPLC’s report includes recommendations for the state Legislature, Department of Education, school boards and school districts to enhance data collection capabilities and improve data collection and reporting.