Meadville Tribune

Opinion

March 12, 2014

Let’s work to cure problems instead of window dressing

Our school district (Crawford Central) followed the herd mentality and hired an in-school police officer.

Why?

Student populations today are roughly half what they were in 1970. My graduating class had more than 400 students; today that same school graduates about 220 students.

During the last 40-some years, the juvenile probation department has multiplied in size. Today, juvenile probation establishes a very significant presence in the high school. That was not the case in 1970.

Forty-five years ago, there were no learning support specialists (LSS) or therapeutic support specialists (TSS) accompanying students to school. Now we have an alphabet soup of learning disorders and have implemented individual education programs (IEPs) for affected students.

So now we have half the students; squads of support staff members; myriad social intervention programs; and probation officers in residence. And we’re adding an in-school police officer?

Sadly, this is a national trend. But is anybody embarrassed that there is so little control in our schools that we believe we need a policeman in-house?

Granted (no pun intended), the first year’s cost of the school resource officer is “free” if you define free as being paid for with your federal tax dollars instead of your local tax dollars. But sooner or later, local tax dollars will be required to sustain the program. And frankly, I’m concerned about diverting tax dollars away from their primary intent — educating young minds.

For $60,000 you can fund an in-school police officer. Or you can buy 48,000 school breakfasts. That is enough to provide free breakfasts every day of the school year to 266 needy children. School kids with full stomachs are better learners and cause fewer behavioral problems. When we divert school tax dollars from education, the community is saying that body armor is more important than breakfasts for the needy; pepper spray prevails over physics lab equipment; and Tasers trump trigonometry textbooks. That attitude is shortsighted and counterproductive.

Are we searching for authority figures and role models for students? Back in the primitive times during which I grew into adulthood, we had them. They were called parents, teachers and coaches. Has the mean level of parenting skills declined over the years? Perhaps it has. But an in-school police officer will certainly not have a meaningful effect on a social problem of that magnitude.

Maybe we should admit that 40 years of vacuous educational theories simply aren’t working. If our schools have instances wherein students strike teachers in the face, then the concept of mainstreaming needs to be modified, because such a student has no place in mainstream education in the first place. Rather than bemoaning state and federal mandates which enable such a situation to exist, it might be more productive to lobby to change existing mandates. Isn’t that the lesson in democracy that civics classes purportedly teach?

If you give a lung cancer patient enough cough syrup, he will stop coughing. You’ve masked his symptoms, but he certainly hasn’t been cured. Likewise, a school resource officer is Robitussin for a failed education system.

Let’s stop masking symptoms. If America’s education system is failing both students and society, then let’s work to cure the problems instead of installing window dressing in school hallways.

Roha is a former Meadville city councilman. He can be contacted at jroha@windstream.net.

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