California Grapples With Police in Schools

The largest state in the union ­– California – is considering a bill that would require schools to set “clear guidelines” defining the role of school police and limit their involvement in disciplinary matters, according to an investigative report by California Watch.

California joins Texas and Connecticut - the site of the horrific Newtown school shootings – in considering legislation that would set limits on how schools involve police officers in discipline. Colorado adopted limits last year.

Since last December, lawmakers in various states and school administrators have rushed to beef up security in reaction to a Adam Lanza’s shooting rampage, which killed 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn. President Barack Obama and California’s own senator, Democrat Barbara Boxer, have urged appropriating money to schools that want to increase security.

MORE: State Bill Seeks to Limit School Police in Discipline Matters

California State Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from Los Angeles, introduced the state school police bill, AB 549, to “get out in front,” he said, of the drive to put more security personnel in schools. A first hearing on the bill is set for Wednesday before the Assembly Education Committee.

California lawmakers are considering restricting other discipline practices critics say have become counterproductive, including suspensions that remove students from school for days at a time, often causing them to fall behind in classwork and leaving them unsupervised at home, California Watch reported.

The Assembly education panel recently approved a bill April 17 that would restrict out-of-school student suspensions and expulsions for “willful defiance,” the basis of almost half of all suspensions in 2011-2012, new state data shows.

The Jones-Sawyer bill faces opposition from the Association of California School Administrators. Laura Preston, the group’s legislative advocate, told the Center that the proposal takes too much control away from local districts and schools because it limits what they can do with school safety dollars.

And a growing group of juvenile-justice researchers and judges argue that putting students into conflict with officers over minor infractions – and needlessly placing kids in the justice system – increases risks students will drop out and get into more serious trouble.

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