Last week, a collective of organizations engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement published two policy briefs (here and here) which together articulate an education platform. Although Black Lives Matter crystallized into a cultural force after several well-documented incidents of police violence, it has never been a single-issue movement. For many Americans, critical analyses of public schools have never lived very far away from conversations about racism, policing, and the fundamental role of government.
In many education circles, these conversations became open and explicit with the introduction of “school resource officers.” A school resource officer is an on-duty police officer assigned to a school campus. These positions ballooned after the Columbine tragedy, ostensibly to protect students in the event of another attempted school shooting. That hasn’t worked out as designed, and although there are stories of heroism, they’re dwarfed by the ongoing incidents of mass violence with student casualties. Unfortunately, the presence of school resource officers on campus has also meant that every discipline problem (even fake burping) can quickly escalate to an arrest.
And just like formal policing outside of the school gates, the unofficial policing of behavior on campus shows markers of racism and bias. Black students, both boys and girls, are disproportionately suspended and expelled. For a school, that might be the end of the story, but for a young person and their family, it’s likely just the latest in a series of disruptive encounters with agencies supposedly tasked with protecting and caring for them.
This new Black Lives Matter education platform acknowledges the central role that schools play in communities today and that they are woven into the fabric of families’ lives. Education, policing, and criminal justice are in constant interplay, and none of them function independently of the others. Some of the policy wonks among us might take issue with the particulars of the recommendations — and that’s fair — but the platform should be read in its intended context, and policy debates should be informed by an understanding of the complex relationships among these public agencies.