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Counselors Not Cops: Call for Policing Reforms In HISD

LAST YEAR, HISD ALUMNUS GEORGE FLOYD WAS MURDERED BY POLICE. TODAY, THE HISD SUPERINTENDENT AND SCHOOL BOARD TRUSTEES STILL HAVE NOT MOVED FORWARD ON SCHOOL POLICE REFORM.

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For several years HISD students, parents, community members, and community organizations have urged the superintendent and school board to prioritize changes to the HISD Police Department. Instead, they have only the used countless, national deaths at the hands of police as a form of pseudo-empathy, and the need for action remains

The Safe and Supportive Schools Collaborative has recommended eight policies that HISD can vote on and implement that would protect HISD students. When those recommendations were shared at the HISD board workshop, HISD Police Department Chief Pete Lopez publicly acknowledged that these reforms were reasonable, and most could be enacted by changing the policing policy manual.

Multiple letters to the superintendent and school board were submitted in support of the recommendations by community-based organizations, but no HISD administrator has taken any action to create any reform. These recommendations included no longer permitting HISD Police Department officers to pepper-spray students, use zip ties as handcuffs, arrest students on campus for non-violent student violations, or question students about alleged crimes without a parent or guardian present. The only thing stopping the adoption of these policies is bureaucratic inaction.

Based on conversations with numerous HISD School Board Trustees, the Earl Carl Institute and our partners believe that another meeting is not necessary to decide whether or not students should be pepper-sprayed on campus. There is broad support to pass this policy, as well as all other policies previously recommended, and such should be placed on the school board’s agenda in May. Escalation of police interaction like pepper-spraying, zip tying, and arresting directly harms young people. HISD students have and continue to experience such harm at school. We do not believe that students should experience trauma or be treated like criminals for minor school misconduct.

Superintendent Lathan, as educators, students, and members of the Houston community, we call on our leaders to place the HISD Police Department policy reforms to the May 13th board meeting agenda for a vote.

There is no evidence that police presence in schools increases or improves school safety.  On the contrary, police presence increases the number of minor behavioral problems that are referred to the police.  These referrals unnecessarily funnel kids into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Instead of funding policing, HISD should prioritize the implementation of new practices regarding school policing in the district.

Accordingly, the Safe & Supportive Schools Collaboration urge and encourage HISD to (a) increase transparency, (b) limit police engagement with students, and (c) properly implement safe and supportive practices as detailed in the following recommendations:

(A.) We urge the HISD to increase transparency regarding its school-policing practices by:

  • Providing campus-specific data on police encounters with students and;
  • Committing to ongoing discussions about policing and prioritizing voices of HISD parents and young people during these conversations

(B.) We urge the HISD to limit police engagement with students by:

  • Banning the use of force by police when interacting with students;
  • Prohibiting police from questioning students without a parent present and;
  • Prohibiting police from arresting students on campus where there are no weapons or serious bodily injury involved.

(C.) We urge the HISD to implement safe and supportive practices by:

  • Divesting funding from school policing in the district, and instead reallocating funding to the hiring of more counselors, social workers, and psychologists;
  • Increasing and properly implementing the use of Restorative Justice practices and routinely evaluating program fidelity and;
  • Providing trauma-informed resources and mental health services to teachers and students. This includes increasing the counselor-to-student ratio from HISD’S current ratio of 1:1000+ to the recommendation of 1:250.

The Safe & Supportive School Collaborative includes the Earl Carl Institute at Texas Southern University, ONE Houston, Disability Rights Texas, Children’s Defense Fund and Texas Appleseed.  Learn more about our Counselors Not Cops Campaign at: https://counselorsnotcops.org/ and follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SafeandSupportiveSchoolsCollaborative/.

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