Raise your hand if you can’t get enough of local school board meetings! Anyone? Well, you’re totally missing out, because local groups like the school board have a huge impact on our lives. Want proof? The Miami-Dade school board voted just last week to:
- Increase the number of certified mental health professionals in the district from 30 to 55
- Create a Community Advisory Committee at the Department of Mental Health to monitor implementation
That’s great news for their Miami’s nearly 360,000 students, and it’s great news for activists and organizers working to make this kind of change a trend in districts all across the country.
It’s also a big win for our partners, Power U and Advancement Project National Office, who have been pushing the Miami-Dade school board for an increase in counselors and a reduction in school police officers for a long time. There’s more work to be done, but this vote represents some serious progress. It’s a perfect example of what can happen if we stand together and make ourselves heard.
Why Change Is Needed
Miami-Dade is a big school district, so changes adopted there can set a precedent and ripple out across the country. That can’t happen a moment too soon, because students everywhere need help. Stress, anxiety, and depression are on the rise, but even though one in five kids in America have mental illness, the huge majority of them won’t get the help they need. One big reason why: Instead of investing in more mental health counselors, school districts keep hiring more police and security officers.
Miami has been doing just that—there are about twice as many police and security officers as counselors in Miami-Dade schools. Which is why last week’s vote is such an important step toward correcting that imbalance and supporting students.
By the way, there’s no evidence to suggest that putting more police in our schools actually makes students safer. On the other hand, we do know that overpolicing leads to Black and Brown students being impacted disproportionately. We do know that Black students are punished more harshly than white students for the same infractions. We do know that Black students, around the country and in Miami, are arrested at school at significantly higher rates (due, at least in part, to the fact that Black students are more likely than students of any other ethnic or racial group to attend schools patrolled by police): Only 20% of Miami-Dade students are Black, but Black students make up 52% of arrests. So we have to keep the pressure on.
The Power of Working Together
Last week’s school-board vote doesn’t shut off the school-to-prison pipeline in Miami. It doesn’t end the overpolicing of schools. It doesn’t ensure that all Miami-Dade students will be able to access the counseling and assistance they need. But it IS a great start, and Power U and Advancement Project in particular deserve a lot of credit for never backing down from this fight.
The progress we make in Miami will be a model for school districts all over the country. But it’s going to take all of us working together, local board by local board, to solve this nationwide problem.
So let’s celebrate the progress we’ve made in Miami. And then let’s work even harder to make sure that students everywhere in America feel safe and supported in school. Ready to transform the criminal justice system? Ready to stop the overpolicing of our kids?