Ahead of National Walkout, Students From Across the Country Call for Limits on Campus Cops, More Counselors

Students participate in a protest against gun violence on Feb. 21, 2018, outside the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

More counselors and social workers — not police, metal detectors, or armed teachers — should be schools’ response to the Parkland, Florida, shooting, students from across the country said ahead of planned walkouts Wednesday.

The consequences of increased police presence fall more heavily on students of color, whose schools are more likely to get stepped-up security and who often face harsher consequences for interactions with law enforcement, student organizers said on a call with reporters Monday.

Each of the students — from Florida, Philadelphia, New York, Ohio, Denver, and Chicago — will be participating in school walkouts and other events Wednesday to memorialize the 17 victims of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to call for more gun control. Advancement Project, a civil rights group, organized the call.

Several pending congressional proposals call for additional funds for school safety and violence prevention; the Trump administration has also proposed arming teachers, a response with less support among the public and Congress.

Andrea Colon, a senior at Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Studies in New York, said that having metal detectors and police officers at her school is “dehumanizing.”

“School is supposed to be a place where you go and you feel safe, you feel supported, but that’s not what you feel … It’s almost traumatizing and it creates this sense of criminalization that no one really wants to feel,” she said.

Maxx Yañez, a junior at KIPP Denver Collegiate who describes herself as Chicano, said she doesn’t feel safe around police, particularly because her school has a large population of immigrant students who fear additional consequences from interactions with law enforcement.

The Trump administration has dramatically increased arrests of undocumented immigrants, particularly those without criminal records, and moved to end Obama-era protections for students brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

“It feels like a prison when we see cops going in and out,” she said.

Police in schools don’t take the time to get to know students, said Nia Richardson, a junior at Graham High School in Columbus, Ohio.

“They look at you because you’re a teenager and because you’re loud and because you dress a certain way … The police officer will look at you a certain way and treat you a certain way,” she said.

They also panned the idea of arming educators.

“My teacher could be going through a tough time in their lives and finally reach their breaking point … and decide to shoot. I wouldn’t feel safe in that position,” said Camryn Cobia, a junior at Central High School in Philadelphia.

The students also said adults in charge aren’t listening to them.

“Why can’t we redesign our school and our infrastructure to be what us as students want it to be?” asked Walle Telusnord, a senior at Miami Edison High School. “Not one time has someone stepped into [my high school] to say, ‘How can we help you succeed?’ ”

Several students also questioned how school district leaders could justify additional investments for police, metal detectors, and the like, when they’ve long said other priorities — such as textbooks, building repairs, and funding for restorative justice programs — couldn’t be funded.

Instead of adding more police officers, schools could look to the security systems in place elsewhere, and consider options such as requiring visitors to ring a doorbell and be buzzed into the building, or key-fob-only access like many office buildings have, said Kaitlin Banner, a staffer at Advancement Project.

Beyond walkouts and memorial silences, the following Wednesday events are planned:

● Miami: Youth-led town hall meeting to discuss causes of and solutions to gun violence, 6 to 8 p.m.

● Philadelphia: After meeting at school district headquarters, students will march to City Hall with elected officials and others, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

● Chicago: Rally and press conference at City Hall; during the walkouts, students will also be remembering young people who have died in Chicago, 4:15 p.m.

● Denver: A “die-in” where students will act as though they’re dead in an intersection before gathering for a rally in a nearby park following the walkout, 9:30 a.m.

● Columbus, Ohio: “Listening campaign” on school safety after walkout, 10 a.m.

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