Info Alert

Officers, Schools and Institutional Racism - Part 2

The Minnesota Student Survey

Officers, Schools and Institutional Racism - Part 2

Measures and Analysis

The Minnesota Student Survey (MSS) is a statewide survey jointly run by the Department of Health and Department of Education. About 85 percent of school districts participate, allowing us to have a clear picture of the trends in education and health as reported by young people. The survey is distributed every three years to secondary students. In 2016, the SRO questions were new, and only included on the surveys given to 8th, 9th and 11th grades.

Researchers pulled several specific questions from the dataset. The first asked students if they had a police officer or SRO present at their school. For students who responded “yes,” three additional questions about their perception of their SRO were asked. The Minnesota Student Survey gives preference in coding to ethnicity, so if a student identifies as Hispanic, the other race options they may have chosen are not considered in these analyses. Students also had the option to choose multiple race groups. Thus, the analyses contain a multiracial group.

Researchers began with chi-square statistics and Analyses of variance (ANOVA). These variables were used to conduct logistic regression models and test for significant interactions between each of the outcomes. Given the racialized history of policing, the data was stratified in all analyses by race and ethnicity. The analysis also controlled for sex, grade level, reduced-price lunch and geography (urban/not urban).

Students, Safety, & Discipline: Secondary Students Race/Ethnicity

Minnesota is predominantly white; about 70 percent of students report white (non-Hispanic) as their race. Ten percent of students identify as Hispanic, six percent as black (non-Hispanic) and Asian/Pacific Islander (non-Hispanic), and one percent as American Indian (non-Hispanic). The remaining seven percent of students report multiple race groups.

Generally, 9 out of 10 students feel safe at school. 1 out of 10 have experienced discipline at least once in the last 30 days. 1 in 3 receive free or reduced-price lunch, a marker for lower family income. Safety differs significantly by race, but overall students feel safe. Researchers recognize that race is an imperfect marker, but that school experience varies widely based on skin color, cultural background, class, gender and other identity markers. School discipline differs significantly for every race-ethnicity group; one in four Native American students had experienced school discipline. One in 5 black students experienced discipline, while only fewer than 1 in 10 white students had experienced discipline, and only 1 in 25 Asian students. These systemic gaps in discipline are unacceptable. “Students of color are often penalized for values, such as being ‘loud,’ ‘aggressive,’ or ‘noncompliant,’ whereas white students presenting the same behaviors would be called ‘inquisitive’ or ‘independent,’” said Policy Associate Kimberly Quick of the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

According to the MSS, 7 out of 10 students reported “yes,” they have an officer or SRO in their school. Two out of 10 students did not know if they had an SRO or not, while 1 in 10 reported not having an officer. Perceptions of officers ranged across all response options. Among students who have an officer, their perceptions were significantly different. White and Asian students have significantly higher perceptions of SROs; Native American, black, and Multiracial students significantly lower perceptions of SROs; Hispanic students have a mid-perception among race groups. Officer presence is significantly higher in schools with greater proportions of students of color.

An initial scan of student groups suggests there is no difference across race groups on students’ perceptions of safety or experiences of school discipline alone. However, when the data is stratified by race, only black students are 30 percent more likely to report feeling safer with the presence of an SRO. This may be part of the legacy of officers supporting enforcement of racial integration of schools and ignoring the fact that schools are more racially segregated now.

The presence of an SRO generally does not seem to correlate with any changes in discipline. The interaction term (race/ethnicity combined with presence of SRO) suggests there is not a difference by race groups, but upon stratification the results for Native American students are different. Native American students are 60 percent more likely to experience discipline when an officer is present than without an SRO, and that is significant. White students experience a small but statistically significant decrease in discipline.

A more positive perception of SROs is associated with a higher feeling of safety. Generally, for every point increase in SRO perceptions, students are 32 percent more likely to increase a point on the safety scale. The greatest gains in safety are for Asian, white, and Hispanic youth, who also ranked significantly higher on the perception scale for SROs and have historically benefited from police “interventions.”

The researchers found that a more positive perception of SROs is associated with a significant decrease in school discipline. For example, on average, for every one point increase in the positive perception of their SRO, there is a 24 percent decrease in the odds of experiencing discipline. It is important to remember that the perception scale is 12 points, and each of these percentages corresponds to the difference in a one-point change. While this seems promising, there are greater gains in positive perceptions benefiting white and Asian students, as they are over 25 percent less likely to receive discipline for every increase in SRO perception, while there is only a 19 percent decrease in the odds of experiencing discipline for black students for every perception point. This suggests that students who have positive perceptions of SROs may not receive a reciprocal positive response in the form of decreased discipline.

SROs quell fear for parents, but they do not seem to have an impact by their presence alone on students. They also believe that they are doing well and excelling at their jobs, but students are not nearly as enthusiastic about their success. These data suggest that SROs benefit some students more than others, in ways that parallel the racial and ethnic social order in the United States. This is not egalitarian, and it infringes on the rights of young people, especially students of color.

These data forecast further criminalization of marginalized students if no action is taken. We cannot continue to segregate schools and expect equitable outcomes or community solidarity and the rights of youths to be upheld.

Officers’ Role

The role that officers have includes building positive, supportive relationships with young people. SROs are not currently trained in this. Schools may benefit from a critical review of the value of SROs and their role in the school-to-prison pipeline, and by investigating if there are more efficient positions within the school system that would increase safety while decreasing school discipline, such as social workers, youth workers, inclusion specialists or support staff. This includes offering training in adolescent and youth development as well as relationship building, and using tactics that do not further escalate the stress in the educational and youth spaces.

Further research is necessary to establish the comparative effectiveness of these non-teaching roles in the lives of students. Structures for discipline and pedagogy, such as restorative justice and social justice-based education that keeps students in the classroom have further shown to decrease violence in schools. School teams may benefit by investing in employees who have greater training in youth development, relationship building and trauma-informed response.

Click Here.Read Part 1 of this Info Alert: "A Critical Look at School Safety, Discipline and the Role of School Resource Officers"

Posted or updated: 1/8/2018 12:00:00 AM
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Click Here.Read Part 1 of this Info Alert: "A Critical Look at School Safety, Discipline and the Role of School Resource Officers"

Suggested Pages:

*Action Alerts

*Racial Justice and Mass Incarceration

Take Action:

Contact your local congressional representative at the Capital Switchboard (202-224-3121) or their district office to voice your support for:
  • H.R.160 -The General Education Provisions Act to prohibit the Department of Education from providing funding to any state or local educational agency that allows its school personnel to inflict corporal punishment upon a student.
  • S.860 - The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2017. This landmark legislation supports local and state efforts to prevent delinquency and improve the juvenile justice system. 

Know your child’s rights:

Learn how to prevent the school to prison pipeline:

Read More:


  • Read "The Social Community" (Chapter 162 A. III) in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church
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