- The Oakland Unified School District is incorporating a team of police on its payroll into its social-emotional learning (SEL) efforts, according to Edutopia.
- Officers employed by the district in schools like Castlemont High School are tasked with a focus on staff and student relationships, demonstrating SEL skills like empathy or self-awareness to get to the bottom of a fight or issues a student might be facing.
- The district began training its police to focus on SEL skills two years ago, when Chief Jeff Godown, a 36-year police veteran who previously worked on forces in Los Angeles and San Francisco, heard an SEL presentation and realized school police needed to be trained to understand context and actions when dealing with students in high-poverty schools, Edutopia reports.
As many schools and districts nationwide have come to abandon "zero-tolerance" policies in recent years in favor of alternative disciplinary methods, attention has also turned to the police officers tasked with keeping schools safe. In some cases, incidents of excessive force being used on children for minor incidents in schools, like a case last year in Kentucky where an 8-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl who reportedly had disabilities were handcuffed for misbehavior that included hitting a special education teacher, has led to these changes.
Ultimately, administrators walk a tight rope on school security. Schools should be an inviting and welcoming environment while also providing security against any potential threat, but the presence of too many cameras, metal detectors and armed guards can also make them feel too close to a prison in some instances. Oakland's efforts to train its police officers to focus first on SEL practices is a great step toward avoiding some of those concerns, in addition to combating distrust of police that has only risen in the wake of events like the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, or the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH, that same year.