Why Do Schools Have More Police On Campus Than Mental Health Staff?

By Kelly Burch 03/14/19

On average, schools had just 1 counselor per 444 students, according to a report from the ACLU.

student talking to mental health counselor

In schools across the nation, students are more likely to see police officers than nurses or counselors, according to a new report.

In fact, a third of public school students are enrolled in schools with a police officer but without a counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker. 

Using data form the U.S. Department of Education, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) compiled a report, "Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff is Harming Students."

The ACLU found that mental health access is sparse in schools, as more funding is directed toward police and other security. 

The report points out that the suicide rate among teens increased 70% between 2006 and 2016, and school is often the first and more accessible option for teens who need help. 

“Today’s school children are experiencing record levels of depression and anxiety, alongside multiple forms of trauma," the report reads. “School counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists are frequently the first to see children who are sick, stressed, traumatized, may act out, or may hurt themselves or others. This is especially true in low-income districts where other resources are scarce. Students are 21 times more likely to visit school-based health centers for treatment than anywhere else.”

Schools with adequate mental health care see improved attendance, better graduation rates and fewer disciplinary problems, the reported noted.

Yet, on average, schools had just 1 counselor per 444 students—something Eric Sparks, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association, says is absurd. 

"It's physically impossible for them to have an impact on students with developmental needs," he said. “We have many schools where students don't have access to a school counselor and some schools don't have a school counselor."

On the other hand, the presence of police can contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, the report authors argue. 

“Schools are under-resourced and students are overcriminalized,” report authors wrote. 

However, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, Mo Canady, told CNN that tying the issue of police presence and lack of counselors together is a false comparison. 

”It doesn't need to be one or the other, we need counselors and mental health specialists," said Canady.

"We definitely need specifically trained [school resource officers] to stand shoulder-to shoulder with mental health specialists. We need folks in there who are not afraid to be vulnerable and engage with students, listen to their concerns and just be real with them."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.