Some of America’s biggest school districts in New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade County and Houston are hiring more security officers and police than counselors. In Houston, for example, there is only one counselor for every 1,175 students.
“It shows how districts are prioritizing school climate and school safety and whether they’re prioritizing proactive approaches through school counselors, or reactive approaches through school security or police officers,” he says.
But only looking at the numbers doesn’t tell us much about the climates of the schools, Barnum says.
Barnum says teachers and school staff have said school resource officers are part of a positive climate in their schools and help teachers do their jobs. But that doesn’t always happen, and officers don’t always get the training they need to help students.
“It is concerning that there are some districts that are investing more in security than in counselors, when we have a lot of research that suggests that counselors make a big difference for students,” Barnum says.
Part of the problem is that school districts have finite budgets, which means they have to decide where they’re going to invest their resources.
“It’s just hard to know whether a police officer or security officer is going to be a better investment than a counselor,” Barnum says. “When you have scarce dollars, you sort of have to make this decision.”
There’s more to the discussion than police officers and school counselors, Barnum says.
“Schools are part of a larger issue,” he says. “There’s a lot of conversation about mass incarceration, about the school-to-prison pipeline potentially contributing to that. I think videos like the disturbing one we saw in San Antonio give credence to a lot of the fears about having too many police officers in schools. … We really need to dig more deeply into how the districts are training the security.”