To Prevent the Next School Shooting, We Should Listen to Young People

To Prevent the Next School Shooting, We Should Listen to Young People

To Prevent the Next School Shooting, We Should Listen to Young People

Young people demand that schools shift from a punitive and policing approach toward restorative practices.

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In the days following the tragic, nonsensical, and all-too-familiar massacre of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., we’ve heard the same weak script from politicians: empty “thoughts and prayers” messaging alongside the misguided demand to increase police presence and militarization in schools—while they’ve taken no legislative action to prevent subsequent mass shootings.

When Senator Ted Cruz said, “We know from past experience that the most effective tool for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement on the campus,” he ignored the well-researched reality students experience: Increased policing in schools is a threat to young people, not the solution. Police officers didn’t prevent the shooter from entering Robb Elementary; they refused to enter the school as he attacked.

Elected officials should not use this tragedy to inflict more danger and violence on Black and brown communities. We must support young people by listening to them. Black and brown youth have already shared a vision of safe and supportive schools that would create a liberatory path forward. It’s about time legislators pay attention and end school policing, along with “hardening” measures like metal detectors, restraints, seclusion, surveillance, and the criminalization of young people. Militarizing schools only perpetuates the cycle of state violence against youth of color.

Safety doesn’t exist when young Black and Latinx youth must repeatedly interact with a policing system that treats them as threats rather than as scholars. The policing of students of color and their families connects to a long history of racial capitalism and violence explicitly targeting Black and brown communities. Schools should be places of joy for young people, not institutions perpetuating state violence.

In the “Youth Mandate for Education and Liberation: A Mandate to Guide Us From Crisis to Liberation,” students nationwide demand that schools divest from police and instead invest more in teachers, school counselors, social workers, and culturally responsive education programs—all while pushing for stricter gun laws. Young people and grassroots youth groups within the Center for Popular Democracy network­—the nation’s largest multiracial organizing network­—created the Youth Mandate, which has been endorsed by more than 100 ally organizations and more than 6,000 individuals. They demand that schools shift from a punitive and policing approach toward restorative practices.

The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, which Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Jamaal Bowman, along with Senators Chris Murphy, Elizabeth Warren, and Tina Smith, introduced in Congress in 2021 also prioritizes students’ needs by ending federal funding for police in schools while helping schools hire more counselors, social workers, and health professionals.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s response to the shooting didn’t focus on prevention; he obstructed the conversation with tired ideas like limiting schools to one entry point and potentially arming teachers.

Yet, restorative practices can improve school climates and make students safer. One school in Philadelphia reduced the number of serious and violent incidents by over 52 percent in the first year of implementation of a restorative program. A school in Denver reduced fights by 80 percent within two years of implementation. Another school in Oakland saw a 77 percent reduction in violence in one year while also ending the racial disparity in discipline.

Removing police from schools isn’t just a theoretical policy. After the murder of George Floyd, some school districts across the country removed police from schools and more have begun these shifts.

Uvalde is just the latest example of how police presence doesn’t decrease the deadliness of school shootings. A study of 179 school shootings from 1999 to 2018 showed there was no relationship between the presence of “school resource officers” and the severity of shooting incidents. If anything, their presence often made violence worse. A comprehensive analysis of school shootings from 1980 to 2019 also found that schools with armed guards had greater rates of deaths than those without.

Reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were present at Robb Elementary multiply the pain of undocumented parents, who, already facing dire circumstances, had to consider the risk of deportation as they waited to learn whether their children had survived—and demonstrate why we must end the school-to-deportation pipeline by ensuring that ICE agents can’t enter or coordinate with schools.

Police and ICE are institutions created to protect the state and white supremacy, not Black and brown people. They don’t belong in schools.

Students, teachers, and parents shouldn’t have to live in fear; educators shouldn’t risk their lives because the state refuses to take basic, researched-backed actions to ensure safety.

Countless studies, student and teacher testimonials, and common sense show that reactionary and punitive approaches to school violence are ineffective at best. Instead, we need to invest in resources that prevent shootings and all violence in schools. From Columbine and Sandy Hook to Marjory Stoneman Douglas and now Robb Elementary, our youth have lived this tragic cycle for too long. Legislators must follow students’ lead to build communities of safety, free from gun violence and policing.

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