ACLU Leader: We Need Counselors, Not Cops

school resource officer looking students in cafeteria

By Jessica Swarner

July 23, 2020

Arizona has a student-to-counselor ratio of 905 to 1, the worst in the country.

Earlier this month, activists pushed Phoenix Union High School District to agree not to have cops on campus this upcoming academic year. 

But the conversation around having police officers in schools has been happening for years

Marcela Taracena, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona, explained that she doesn’t believe school resource officers (SROs) truly make students safer or improve their education. 

In fact, their presence can cause some students to be more at risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system. The ACLU refers to this cycle as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” 

A report from the organization found that children as young as five have been charged with “crimes” for everyday misbehavior: throwing a paper airplane, kicking a trash can, and wearing sagging pants. 

“We also know that cops on campuses have a disproportionate impact on certain student populations, such as Black students, students with disabilities, [and] students of color,” Taracena explained. 

Activists have also pointed out that police presence at schools can intimidate undocumented students, despite them having a legal right to be there. 

RELATED: While The Push to Defund Phoenix Police Grows Stronger, Activists Want Officers Out of Schools

Instead, Taracena and the ACLU want to see more counselors in Arizona schools. 

The state has a student-to-counselor ratio of 905 to 1, the worst in the country. The recommended proportion is 250 to 1. 

“The glaring deficit of mental health professionals in our schools is inexcusable,” Taracena said. “And many of our students have had enough.” 

According to the ACLU, a quarter of Arizona students report having a school resource officer on campus but not a counselor. 

“What we do know is that when we have these staff members such as counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses on school campuses, we see an overall improvement in academic achievement,” she said. “We see better attendance rates. We see lower rates of expulsion and suspension and an overall improvement in school climate.” 

While school districts across the country have made the decision to move away from contracting police officers on their campuses, Taracena hopes to see more in Arizona follow suit. 

“It’s time that our state and school leaders listen to the data and understand that having counselors on campuses is the safest way to protect our students and improve overall school safety,” Taracena said. “It’s time to invest in counselors, not cops.” 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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