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Bill Aims to Boost Hiring of School Social Workers, Counselors

June 22, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck

The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, a bill recently reintroduced by members of the Senate and House, aims to increase the presence of social workers, counselors and other personnel to support marginalized students.

“Our legislation is pretty simple. It says that federal dollars from here on out will be used to hire those support workers, counselors, in particular, instead of police officers,” Sen. Chris Murphy told reporters last week. 

Murphy reintroduced the bill on June 17 along with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, and Sen. Tina Smith. 

The bill would provide $5 billion in grant money for districts to hire counselors, social workers and other behavioral health personnel and implement services in schools that create positive and safe climates for all students.

Since 1999, the federal government has spent more than $1 billion to support the increased presence of police in schools. This legislation would prohibit federal funds supporting the hiring, maintaining or training of police officers in K-12 schools and instead divert that funding toward uses related to school safety within applicable grant programs.

Research provided by the American Civil Liberties Union shows that counselors, social workers, psychologists and other trained professionals improve social and educational outcomes for kids in schools, while police involvement in schools leads to the criminalization of students, particularly students of color and students with disabilities.

“Nationally, students with disabilities are arrested at a rate nearly three times higher than their non-disabled peers,” Murphy said. “Black students on a national basis are arrested at a rate three times that of white students.”

Of the 87,000 students restrained during the 2015–2016 school year, 71% received special education services, and 11% of students restrained were Black.

Those living with disabilities, Native Americans, Latinos and LGBTQ students are also more likely than their peers to attend schools with police officers on campus. They are also more likely to be referred to law enforcement or arrested while in school.

“Schools should be safe havens for healing and learning, but Black, brown, LGBTQ, and students with disabilities are often met with criminalization. I reintroduced the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act because they need social workers and counselors, not more police,” said Pressley on her Twitter feed

According to the ACLU, no research to date has found evidence of school resource officers making schools safer. However, school resource officers have been shown to increase the likelihood that children will be arrested while on campus.

The ACLU research also shows that schools with a designated law enforcement officer on duty arrested students at 5 times the rate of comparable schools without such an officer.

Murphy said the bill will not prohibit schools from hiring police officers and would not prohibit states and local municipalities from investing in police officers either. It would only redirect federal dollars toward hiring counselors instead of police. 

According to additional research from the ACLU, 90% of students currently attend public schools where the number of counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists does not meet recommended professional standards.

Professional standards recommend at least one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students and at least one nurse and one psychologist for every 750 students.

However, currently, 1,700,000 students attend schools with police but not one counselor,  6,000,000 students attend schools with police but no school psychologists and 10,000,000 students attend schools with police but no social workers.

“When we put an officer in a school, we’re sending a message that our children require surveillance. When we put a counselor in a school, we’re sending a message that our children deserve nurturing and support,” Rep. Bowman said in a statement

The bill would also require each local educational agency receiving a grant to prepare and submit a report to the Secretary containing information about how the grant funds were used and the number of students who were arrested by or referred to law enforcement officers in the previous year, compared to the number arrested or referred during the term of the grant. 

The agency would also have to detail the reasons for arrest and the demographic data of students referred to or arrested by law enforcement officers separated by race, ethnicity, age, gender, sex and sexual orientation, status as a child with a disability, and socioeconomic status.

Polling by Data for Progress found that approximately 57% of the public supports decreasing police in schools and instead investing in behavioral, mental health and emotional support for students.

Advocacy groups including the ACLU, Children’s Defense Fund, the NAACP and the National Education Association have endorsed the legislation. 

While the bill aims to redirect funds for policing, few cities have taken steps to remove police entirely from schools.

In early May, the City Council of Alexandria, Virginia, voted to end a School Resource Officer program which was started nearly three decades ago. This vote pulled all police officers out of school hallways stationed inside T.C. Williams High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School.

The plan, proposed by City Councilman Mo Seifeldein, is to reallocate $789,909 the School Resource Officer funding to add mental health resources to Alexandria City Public Schools and support staffing to the Teen Wellness Center, but the proposal requires an implementation plan from police and Alexandria City Public Schools, which will be presented to the Council by July. In Washington, D.C., the Police Reform Commission released a report  indicating police be removed from schools by this fall, but city officials, such as D.C. police Chief Robert J. Contee III, rejected the commission’s report on the basis that it does not reflect the needs of D.C. residents.

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