Kids in School, Not Jail

Minor Interactions Major Consequences

Dr. Jamie Fader, an associate professor of criminal justice at Temple University, and Kevin Bethel, the special advisor on school safety for the School District of Philadelphia, discuss how many students experience extreme punishments for normal adolescent behavior.   Although most kids tend to act out because of trauma brought from home, the main way that safety officers handle the inappropriate behaviors is detainment or arrest.  These arrests, even at such a young age, can have devastating effects on their life.  Dr. Fader and Kevin Bethel both say that keeping students out of the system through diversion is one way to help them lead successful lives.

Produced and Edited by Nick Conroy/Royalty-Free Stock Videos from

School Health and Safety is more than just a badge

By Nicholas Conroy

Walking into the building for the first time, police officers stand at the doors watching everyone enter in single file lines through metal detectors.  Some of the people entering the building get stopped by the officers and searched before being allowed into the building.  Someone gets arrested for carrying art supplies into the building.  A normal day for many students in the public school system.

In the United States, many public schools do not meet the minimum recommended ratios for student education and health staff.  Much of the funding, however, does not budget for making these minimums but to security personnel in schools, many of which are unqualified to handle all the complexities of adolescents.  By redirecting these funds to developing such services as school counselors in public schools, many children will greatly benefit.

What exactly is a service in a public school?  They can be one of four different positions: counselor, psychologist, nurse, and social worker.  School counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists are frequently the first to see children who are struggling or ill.  

A counselor, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) professional definition, is a provider who is typically the first school-based medical health provider to interact with students when they are struggling.  They aid students through the curriculum and also establish safe learning environments.  By monitoring and responding to behavior they can help improve school atmospheres and create relationships between students, teachers, and parents.

Many children experience trauma at home Dr. Jaime Fader, an associate professor of criminal justice at Temple University, said.  They can experience trauma through violence at home or on the streets, death and sickness in the family, and extreme poverty.  They can bring the trauma with them to school which can cause inappropriate behavior in the classroom.  Kevin Bethel, special advisor on school safety for the School District of Philadelphia, furthers Dr. Fader’s statements by saying that if a child is only exposed to expressing their feelings from abusive parents, then that is how they think is the proper way to express their feelings.

Many kids, however, tend to remain silent about their problems.  Instead of expressing any distress that they may have, children will use aggressive or off-putting behaviors.  These behaviors can include difficulty paying attention, trouble building relationships, and spending more time out of class.  The trauma from home can compound at school by the results (increased risk of failing, suspension or expulsion, and a higher rate of being referred to special education) of the previously listed behaviors.  When they act out in school, a counselor should be the first aid that students encounter.  

According to the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Summary and Background Information, $43 million of its $68 million budget for school safety national activities was spent on opioid abuse prevention strategies.  A mere $1 million was allotted to support the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.  The form also requested for the elimination of 29 different programs to be eliminated from the budget.  Of those programs, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants and Full-Service Community Schools.

The Full-Service Community Schools provide academic, social, and health services for students, their families, and community members.  Some of these services are providing students with a comprehensive academic program, parental involvement, and leadership supported by a parent education program, and programs that improve access to social services, health services, and assistance to students who have been absent for long periods of time.  

One of the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program’s main three focuses is to improve school conditions for students.  If schools measure their success on an average student success calculation, then the students that bring down the average are more likely to be kicked out.  If schools prioritize individual student success, there would be less need for security guards and police in schools as their presence contributes to the hostile environment seen in schools today.

When children are treated as though they are troublemakers, they will begin to see themselves as troublemakers Dr. Fader explained.  “Having police in schools… makes the kids feel criminal, like they are expected to be criminal,” Dr. Fader said.  She continues to say that these kinds of perspectives can lead to damaging effects on the students’ psyche.  If they don't have someone saying that they can be or do good then they won't be or do good.

Dr. Fader wishes to get rid of as much police presence in schools as possible and reallocate the funds to the proper service providers.  By eliminating a large police presence, Fader believes that schools can go from feeling like prisons to kids to feeling like schools.  Bethel explains some of the situations he has witnessed.  “A lot of our kids, no one’s ever given them a hug… they’ve been living with the monster every day,” Bethel said. Both Bethel and Fader call for more support systems to be established for kids to be shown respect and care for them as human beings.


Juvenile Justice: An Ex-Cop's Journey to Become an Influential Advocate

Kevin Bethel, a Special Advisor on School Safety for the School District of Philadelphia, walks through his journey from Deputy Police Commissioner of Philadelphia to nationally known advocate for juvenile justice. Looking at it from the kids perspective can have a lot of power.

Produced and Edited Nicholas Conroy 


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