A recent report released by the American Civil Liberties Union says public schools need more counselors and less police personnel.
More than one-third of American public school students (14 million, to be precise) are enrolled in schools which have police but don’t have any nurse, psychologist, social worker, or counselor, said the report titled “Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff is Harming Students.”
The reason behind this imbalance is the repeated school shootings, due to which, schools at local, state, and federal level spend more resources on their security as compared to mental health services.
But the “severe shortage of the staff most critical to school safety and positive climate” makes public schools highly vulnerable, the nonprofit organization said in the report.
The report compared the number of security guards and law enforcement officers with the number of mental health professionals in 96,000 public schools, using 2015-2016 data provided by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
“A key finding of this report is that millions of students are being underserved and lack access to critical supports,” the ACLU said in the report.
“These glaring deficits in mental health staff for students are inexcusable, especially in comparison to the number of reported law enforcement in schools.”
At least one counselor should be made available for every 250 students, according to the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association.
However, only three states – Vermont, New Hampshire, and Montana – have the recommended student-to-counselor ratio, the report found.
Eric Sparks, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association, said it’s impossible for such schools to “have an impact on students with developmental needs.”
“We have many schools where students don’t have access to a school counselor and some schools don’t have a school counselor,” Sparks added.
Around 33 percent of students attend a school which has no nurse on staff, 43 percent attend a school that does not have a psychologist, the report said.
More than 1.7 million students attend a school which has a security officer or guard but no counselor, according to the report.
What’s worse, the report indicated a correlation between juvenile delinquency and the presence of law enforcement officers on campus.
The organization argues that it happens because such schools are not equipped to address the social, behavioral and emotional needs of their students, and are more likely to criminalize “typical adolescent behavior.”
“Having law enforcement on campus is a key contributor to this school-to-prison pipeline,” the report said.
“The likelihood of a student dropping out of school increases significantly every time they touch the criminal justice system.”
However, some findings of the report were disputed by Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Canady said the report shouldn’t have mixed school resource officers with law enforcement and security guards because SROs are properly trained to engage with students.
“It doesn’t need to be one or the other, we need counselors and mental health specialists. We definitely need specifically trained SROs to stand shoulder-to shoulder with mental health specialists,” he said.
“We need folks in there who are not afraid to be vulnerable and engage with students, listen to their concerns and just be real with them.”
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