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Local Organizations Say Increased Discipline and Police Presence in Schools Could Do More Harm

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Local Organizations Say Increased Discipline and Police Presence in Schools Could Do More Harm
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Today, on the month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that took 17 lives, local organizations are gathering at the Ohio Statehouse for a press conference and vigil to raise awareness of currently pending state legislation. Students with the Voices of the Unheard, as well as the People’s Justice Project (PJP) and the Juvenile Justice Coalition, are critical of House Bills 360 and 318, which they say aim for safer schools but could put students at a higher risk of being criminalized, particularly students of color, students with disabilities and students that come from low-income families.

HB 360, the Ohio Anti-Bullying and Hazing Act, would crack down on bullying and hazing in public schools and colleges, making hazing as well as the coercion of others to engage in hazing a second degree misdemeanor. A student found guilty of hazing would face a minimum sentencing of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

HB 318 would create standards for school resource officers, including completion of basic training approved by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, as well as 40 hours of school resource officer training within one year after appointment.

“We need to expand the State and municipal definition of and investment in public safety to include school counselors, social workers, and nurses,” said Nia Richardson, junior at Graham High School and Voices of the Unheard Youth Organizer, in a press release. “Counselors, social workers, and nurses are trained to de-escalate students in distress and return them to self-regulation, whereas law enforcement are trained to meet force with force and to neutralize potential threats.”

More discipline and increased law enforcement presence could exacerbate Ohio’s problem with kids in school, according to Voices of the Unheard and their supporting organizations. In the 2015-2016 school year, 200,000 out-of-school suspensions and 3,000 expulsions were handed out to Ohio students, the majority of which were for “non-violent, minor behavior, such as insubordination or talking back to teachers.”

The groups are backing Senate Bill 246, which they say align with research that promotes positive behavior interventions over suspensions and expulsions. SB 246, a bipartisan bill sponsored by State Senators Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) and Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), would limit out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for kids from pre-kindergarten through third grade. It includes an appropriation of $2 million for competitive grants to help schools implement these positive interventions.

“As adults, we must begin to turn away from punitive, law enforcement-based approaches and listen and respond to what students are saying they need to succeed: trauma-informed support and strong relationships with the adults in their schools,” said Erin Davies, Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition, in a press release.

The press conference will begin at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14, at the Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square.

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