Police and drug dogs roamed my school's hallways. More cops won't make students safer.

·3 min read

I have never felt safe in school. Heavily armed police officers led drug dogs at least twice a month through the halls of my junior high school in Houston, which served predominantly Black and Latino students in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood.

With the recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, discussions around education policy and gun laws have again captured public attention.

Although suggestions to mitigate such tragedies include talk of arming teachers, having only one entry point in schools or adding additional armed security to school campuses, often absent from the conversation is the trauma that specific communities have suffered due to the over-policing of urban schools.

A regular school day that wasn't regular

While students in affluent neighborhoods walked to classes during passing periods without obstruction, my peers and I were forced to navigate through a maze of random searches while being reminded to "act normal," as if being subjected to this arbitrary procedure in the 7th grade was "normal."

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We were told that random searches were conducted to keep our schools safer. Keep the criminals out of the schoolhouse. Ensure that every student feels protected.

But I was always scared. My adolescent mind could not fully understand the magnitude of this act, so I never felt safe. The searches became so frequent that my peers and I became desensitized and walked among the large German Shepherds as if it were a standard procedure in schools.

I perceived such experiences were part of a regular school day and something that happened at schools across America. But I learned in college that the over-policing of schools happened nationwide in communities that served majority Black and Latino students.

Zero tolerance led to harsh punishment for minor offenses

Drug-sniffing dog searches and other methods of policing in schools increased because of zero-tolerance policies developed in the 1990s in response to a rise in school shootings. The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 allowed school leaders to administer harsh consequences for minor offenses and was based on the belief that by refusing to tolerate minor infractions, schools could prevent more serious crimes.

With this law, the federal government allowed schools and district leaders to criminalize the classrooms in most urban schools.

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So, as we talk about arming teachers and adding additional security and police officers to campuses to increase safety, we should also be discussing how to increase efforts to create environments that establish harmony. We need to nurture positive emotions in students that will support their learning and ensure that all students feel cared for, welcomed and safe.

We should discuss how to create culturally inclusive environments where we recognize the social-emotional needs of our struggling students, advocate for and allocate the necessary resources to help them. We should discuss how to build support systems within the community where family and community members can be active participants in developing identity, meaningful experiences and other aspects of students' lives.

Increasing armed security and police officers has already been done. It does not work. It does not make students that look like me, that come from my communities, feel safer and more protected. It does not get to the root cause of the problems in schools and communities.

As we work to heal communities traumatized by mass shootings and find ways to keep our students safe, let's not forget how overly policed our urban schools have been for decades and the trauma it has caused to communities of color.

Shontoria Walker is co-author of Culture to the Max! Culturally Responsive Teaching and Practice along with David McDonald, Danielle Ross and Andre Ross. Follow her on Twitter @Dr_SWalker

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Uvalde led to calls for more police in schools. But it won't help.

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