What school officers need to know for safety
Arizona needs a school safety bill that includes age-appropriate trauma informed training for school resource officers (SROs). It’s important because the role of schools is to provide a safe environment for everyone every day. Students that are young, disabled, have special needs or are disruptive don’t always get this freedom.
As a teacher and governing board member, I’ve experienced a number of school safety situations. I know first hand that the school safety conversation can be polarizing, emotional and personal for those affected by tragedy and those caught in the middle of a difficult reality.
But it doesn’t have to be.
In 2015, the National Association of School Resource Officers released a position statement in response to a school resource officer allegedly using physical restraints on a child with special needs and other incidents involving SROs in school disciplinary situations.
NASRO recognized “the critical need for SROs to receive specialized training in the education of special-needs children.” Furthermore, they recommended that if an SRO uses a physical restraint device — e.g. handcuffs or flex cuffs — it should be only in a case that requires the physical arrest of a student for referral to the criminal justice system.
Being trauma-informed means taking into account the whole child and preventing retraumatization by systems and people. In other words, as the adults in the education system, it’s our responsibility to appropriately de-escalate situations when students show noncompliant and unsafe behaviors.
An SRO’s choice to physically restrain a student who refused to remove a bandana from his head is an example of inappropriate escalation and retraumatization. Handcuffing a third-grader for running away to a nearby park because of feelings of frustration and loneliness is an example of retraumatization. A teacher’s choice to name call or shame a student in front of their peers is an example of retraumatization.
Trauma-informed schools provide trainings that give educators the tools to stay calm, de-escalate, and help kids get back to learning. But Arizona law enforcement and the agencies that provide training to SROs have been slow to adopt an approach that includes ageappropriate de-escalation practices. This leaves safety gaps for our children.
Last year’s school safety bill, SB1215, included a minimum training requirement for school resource officers that included school safety and emergency response plans, threat responses and school laws, and virtual or simulated active shooter training that is specific to school scenario. It left out “age-appropriate de-escalation and trauma-informed training” for SROs.
Currently, the building blocks for effective policy are in place.
This past year, the Governor’s Office on Faith and Family partnered with the Adverse Childhood Experiences Consortium, a group that has 10 years of engagement and expertise in this area.
The most recent summit focused on trauma-informed approaches in health care, education and law enforcement. The moderate stance would be to create oversight at the state level that ensures trauma-informed approaches and training are mandated for SROs.
To leave this policy provision out will leave communities with the burden of lobbying a fragmented government bureaucracy.
Parents want their children safe in school every day — not just when there is the threat of an active shooter.
If the Governor wants to provide SROs for every school that wants them, then I hope this year’s Legislature will insist that every SRO not only be trained and prepared for extreme safety emergencies, but also understand everyday practices that promote safe learning environments for every child.