After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers, Minneapolis took to the streets to protest his unjust death. Many museums, parks, and businesses cut ties with the department. People demanded Minneapolis Public Schools follow suit, which the school board ultimately did. This decision was widely celebrated at the time, but recent developments suggest the move was more a performative than truly anti-racist policy decision. Actually dismantling systemic racism in our school requires meaningfully engaging with and listening to students. Instead of engagement, there was a quick shift of funds to fill positions that appear to be similar to security guards.
In cities across the country, students — especially those of color — are policed in their schools and at home in their neighborhoods. Minneapolis is no different. We are told that police are there to protect and serve, but for many Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and disabled people, this is not their experience.
More likely to be arrested: Black and Latinx students
All too often, students’ experiences with student resource officers (SROs) are disturbingly similar. SROs play a prominent role in the school-to-prison pipeline. As a recent Minneapolis Public Schools graduate, I have seen how SROs affect my school. Kids who have been labeled as “bad” are arrested in schools instead of receiving help. Frequently, students of color receive the label, while white students receive support. According to an analysis by Education Week, in 2017, 30% of U.S. schools had SROs in schools. Black and Latinx students were three times more likely to be arrested than white students.
While some have argued that SROs build positive relationships with students, that has not been my experience or that of my peers. I don’t know any classmates who would say they have a trusting relationship with our SRO. What’s more, if the goal is relationship building, then why is their background primarily in law enforcement?
The good news is that now the district can now reallocate the money from the police contract or other programs in MPS. This is a huge opportunity! In the small survey that I conducted among 15 Minneapolis Public Schools students and recent graduates, students had a range of ideas for what needs to be funded. The most prevalent response was that we need Black history classes, LGBTQ+ history classes, and history classes that actually represent our student body. Students want teachers of color, our teachers to be higher paid, and more funding to support restorative justice practices, student organizations like Black Student Unions, better child care services for students with children, free college visits, and better school lunches. There are so many things that our schools need.
Students’ voices not heard
Unfortunately, students and families haven’t been included in decision-making for where this money goes. Students’ demands are not being heard nor met. It isn’t clear how decisions were made about re-allocating the SRO budget. Students, teachers and families deserve to know. This leaves a lot to be desired in terms of community input on the next steps. The school board’s decision to hire private security guards with bachelor’s degrees tells us that they either don’t understand or are not concerned about students’ needs. It indicates they still see BIPOC students as criminals, rather than students who are learning and deserve second chances. Social inequality will not be solved by hiring private security with higher education; it will be solved when we stop assuming that students need to face more discipline. When we focus on actual anti-racism work and true life-learning in our schools each building will transform.
The first step to making this a reality is for our school board’s long-term plan to include student voice and transparency about how the previous SRO budget is spent. It’s our futures that are at stake. We deserve a voice.
Rayna Acha is a recent Minneapolis South High School graduate and incoming first-year student at the University of Chicago. She is a community activist, and a student voice intern at Educators for Excellence – Minnesota.
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