So much for local control and common sense. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is at it again, reprioritizing $80M in grant funding for the Arizona public schools School Safety Program. Instead of allowing the money to fund both school counselors and School Resource Officerss, he wants to fund only armed police officers or security on school campuses.
Established in 1994 by ARS 15-154, the School Safety Program paid for SROs and Juvenile Probation Officers (JPO) on school grounds to contribute to safe school environments conducive to teaching and learning. In 2019, the Legislature appropriated $32M to the School Safety Program and expanded it to include school counselors and social workers. That same year, ADE received $97M in requests from schools. In 2021 with discretionary federal COVID-19 relief dollars, Superintendent Hoffman allocated $21.3M to pay for additional school counselors and social workers our schools needed. In 2023, 172 districts and charters (465 sites), were awarded 140 SROs/JPOs, 219 school counselors, and 106 social workers.
According to ARS 15-154, the school safety program is designed to,
Support, promote and enhance safe and effective learning environments for all students by supporting the costs of placing school resource officers, juvenile probation officers, school counselors and school social workers on school campuses.
Unfortunately, Horne has now mandated that if a school doesn’t already have armed security, their requests for counselors won’t be approved. He doesn’t understand he says, why people don’t get how important it is to ensure we don’t have any massacres in Arizona. Really? We don’t get that? What he doesn’t get, or is just refusing to acknowledge because it doesn’t fit in his partisan pea-brain, is that counselors can be crucial to identifying and dealing with problems before they end in violence.
And sure, a schools resource officer (cop), can be helpful in schools, but research shows that they aren’t the sole solution. A 2021 study conducted by the University at Albany, SUNY, and the RAND Corporation, found that,
SROs do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students. These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students. Finally, we observe that SROs increase chronic absenteeism, particularly for students with disabilities.
In fact, the study found that,
Contrary to frequently cited objectives of SRO programs, the introduction of a full time SRO appears to increase gun-related offceses, perhaps due to increased detection and reporting activities of the police officer within the school. It also marginally increases the likelihood of a school shooting.
SROs do appear to positively affect improving general student safety, but it “comes at a high cost of increased disciplinary responses both by the school and law enforcement”. Suspensions, expulsions, police referrals and arrests, are all increased with SROs in the mix. Black students and disabled students are also disproportionately punished. In addition, the chronic absenteeism rate is substantially increased.
A 2021 JAMA Network study found that there was,
no association between having an armed officer and deterrence of violence” in mass school shootings from 1980 to 2019″.
The study also referred to prior research which “suggests that many school shooters are actively suicidal, intending to die in the act, so an armed officer may be an incentive rather than a deterrent”. Study authors Jillian Peterson, James Densley, and Gina Erickson went on to say that,
The majority of shooters who target schools are students of the school, calling into question the effectiveness of hardened security and active shooter drills. Instead, schools must invest in resources to prevent shootings before they occur.
Preventing shootings before they occur is where school counselors and social workers are key. Research cited by SchoolCounselor.org has shown that,
Positive school climate is tied to high or improving attendance rates, test scores, promotion rates and graduation rates. Conversely, negative school climate can harm students and raise liability issues for schools and districts. Negative school climate is linked to lower student achievement and graduation rates, and it creates opportunities for violence, bullying and even suicide. Research on the increasing trend calling for armed school personnel has demonstrated that armed personnel may create a negative school climate.
Creating a positive school climate takes work. Examples of commonly used practices include threat assessments, SROs, zero-tolerance policies, school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which is a model for clearly outlining behavioral expectations in the classroom to prevent disruptive behavior and violence, and target hardening. As previously discussed, SROs “may detect more crime, but [their] presence is also associated with increased use of exclusionary discipline and criminalization of student behavior”. Likewise, zero-tolerance policies tend to offer “a lack of discernible school safety benefits”.
Research on punitive measures in general, show they, “do not address community- or school-based causes of violence, can worsen student well-being, and are often disproportionately applied to students of color”. Rather, as stated by J.P. Nance in a Stanford Law Review paper about school security considerations after Newtown,
A hard truth that parents, school officials, and policymakers must accept is that even the strongest security measures will not and cannot perfectly thwart those determined to commit violent acts inside schools…schools can do much more to prevent violence by investing in programs that build community, collective responsibility, and trust among students and educators than by using measures that rely on fear, coercion, and punishment.
School counselors, nurses, social workers and other support staff are key to providing the support our schools need to create a positive school climate. But, here in Arizona, we have the highest counselor and social worker to student ratio in the U.S. – three times the recommended ratio. Nurses aren’t even required in Arizona schools.
Horne knows all this, but fixing the causes of school shootings is much harder than plopping a cop with a gun down in every school. Kathy Hoffman understood the solution was multi-faceted, and that prevention was worth a pound of cure. Under her leadership, AZ DOE created the first-ever statewide School Safety Task Force in 2019 to reframe school safety as a multi-pronged approach to safety, health and violence. The task force produced a report providing several recommendations including those for legislative action, while recognizing that,
School safety is complex. It requires differentiated strategies that promote mental health, prevent violence, provide guidance to intervene, and prepare a response to threats to school safety.
But, solving complex problems isn’t sexy and doesn’t provide red meat for Horne’s base like his exhortation to “STOP CRT”. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”. If anyone thinks this negative ideologue is going to solve any of Arizona’s education problems, they aren’t paying attention.