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Race, Response and Responsibility – Policing in Schools: A Black Educator’s Journey

By Dr. Nadine L. Leblanc

In the recent global protests following the murder of yet another unarmed Black man, George Floyd by police officers in the U.S., there has been an emergence of robust conversations on whether police officers aka school resource officers should be banned from being in schools. Like everything else with racial issues, some say it is never black and white (pun intended). BUT IT ACTUALLY IS. Some political leaders like Chicago’s Mayor Lightfoot are arguing against discontinuing the officer’s presence inside public schools, and I can understand why.  As we contemplate what safety should look like in schools, it is a tough call. Nevertheless, as an educator who has spent more than 20 years in Black and Brown majority schools throughout the U.S., from teacher to Principal, I vehemently say YES, there should be NO police officers in schools. PERIOD. We witness too often through the lens of phone cameras and social media, the ongoing incidences of overt racism, where Black men and women are being murdered at the hands of those who should protect and serve, do we then still continue to put our children at risk in what should be their safe space? The mere presence of Police officers in Black and Brown schools opens the door for the same response to any behaviors deemed “threatening.” We have seen too many examples in the news, and I have experienced them personally. There are many Karens and Kens ready to call “wolf” and some of them are educators. In this article, I will share a few examples I have witnessed in my journey and my subsequent response as a critical educator.

In 2010, as a newly appointed teacher at a school serving students who were not successful in traditional High School, I interfered with the attempted arrest of one of my students, a short, Brown, beautiful 16 year old boy, armed with “street creds”, a Napoleon complex and a mind so brilliant that overwhelmed him and us. Like many similar students, he struggled with what being a leader looked like. One afternoon, another young man challenged him over a girl, and it resulted in a fist fight. The assistant Principal (AP) hastened to call the police.  Another teacher (Latina, who later became my AP) and myself went on the warpath to ensure that he was not arrested. We would not rest until we found the Principal who was off campus, who then gave order for NO ARREST TO BE MADE. While we waited to hear from the Principal, we always stayed present, watching EVERY move of the AP and the policemen, because we KNEW. No arrests were made, our student was mentored by us and subsequently and in the following year became the youngest graduate and is off to Colorado pursuing higher education.

In 2012, I was stationed in a sister school in South Florida where over 90% of the students were Black, 70 % being Black males. The school had a history of fights and as such arrests were frequently made by police on school grounds. Within the first month as Principal, I witnessed one of my students being tased by the police, because he responded to an officer with a middle finger. A teacher (tall, 6 ft. Black man) had called the police officer assigned to the school because the student was disruptive. The police officer then called his squad. An argument ensued between the leader of the squad and I, he demanded “ma’am, who are you? I can arrest you for interfering.” I responded, “I am Principal Leblanc- these children’s mother, who are you to treat my children that way?” It was the beginning of a combative relationship with the police. Accordingly, that became a focus point for me as a Black educator committed to challenging the status quo- protecting my children from the po-po:

  1. Teachers were instructed NOT to call the police for behavioral issues, unless there was a gun or blood (there never was)
  2. Police Officers were instructed NOT to interfere with students unless asked
  3. Students were MENTORED by mostly Black police officers to understand response strategies and effectively communicate with police officers
  4. Instituted “When Black Men Teach”- recruited and hired Black men from the community to become educators
  5. Created “Xploration Fridays-” mentoring program targeting social and emotional competencies
  6. Implemented a “Treatment Plan” that tackled off task behaviors with strategies that included reflection, action plan and accountability
  7. We listened, loved, mentored, mediated, and made efforts to treat the problem with a “village” approach.
  8. Established a Dean Team that included four Black men and a Black woman

By 2014, the issues had lessened as we were strategic in our engagement with the police, but more importantly, in the holistic development of our students. In that same year, while hosting an outdoor school event with music playing, one police officer pulled into our driveway and stated to a staff member that we were “housing criminals.” I was summoned and again a confrontation ensued.  Additionally, later that year, two officers entered our building and arrested one of our students in the middle of class, disrupting the entire school and causing trauma to staff and students. This time, I decided to take my issues with the police officers to another level. I emailed the supervisor and reported the concerns I had which resulted in a scheduled meeting with the Chief of Police. My supervisor and I showed up to the meeting and were met with by ten (10) White police officers and their supervisor, who was not the Chief (the Chief was Black). The officers expressed their opinions/concerns about our students, and I did the same about them and their perceived bigoted practices directed towards our students. After our conversation, the supervisor asked that I supply a list of steps that I want the officers to follow before entering the school building. I came up with ELEVEN (11) steps. I also narrowed down the list of officers allowed to work as resource officers based on prior engagement with our students and limited them to only a couple of hours daily on school grounds. By 2016, we only had two officers assigned to engage our students, disciplinary issues were greatly minimized, and our students had become more academically and behaviorally focused in schooling.

Police officers in schools should increase the safety of our students and staff, shouldn’t they?  In my experience, however, having them present increases the likelihood of Black and Brown students being arrested, physically harmed and subsequently criminalized. Their very presence causes angst to Black and Brown students. The purpose of school is to educate, NOT Incarcerate. As a critical educator, my responsibility is to be on the frontline of the struggle for social justice and human rights for all communities, but especially those marginalized. So “until the philosophy which holds one race superior,  and another superior, is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned…” (Marley, 1976)  as privileged, “woke” and critical  educators, we must be intentional about who has access to our students.  Police Officers should NOT have access to our students in a school environment because their main purpose is not education.

A la lutta continua.

Reference

War Lyrics. (n.d.). Lyrics.com. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/3219429/Bob+Marley.

Jamaican born and raised Dr. Nadine L. Leblanc is an Educator and Socio-cultural critic. She is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a PhD in Educational Leadership and Methodology. Email- nadshawl@gmail.com

Haitian Creole ad cec 1

 

 

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