In the wake of high-profile school shootings around the country, many schools over the past decade have invested scarce educational funds into putting more police in schools.

But a look at federal data reveals that the real crisis of schools isn’t violence, but a broad failure to hire enough support staff to serve students’ mental health needs, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU’s Cops and No Counselors report found that in North Dakota, 53% of students attend schools with a police presence, but 74% of students are in schools that fail to meet the appropriate student-to-counselor ratio. Additionally, 37% of North Dakota students attend schools that have police but lack either a counselor, social worker, psychologist and/or nurse.

Given the clear benefits of investing in school mental health resources, it would make sense for school boards, school principals and government leaders to be using every available resource to increase school-based health professionals. Instead, funding for police in schools has been on the rise while public schools face a critical shortage of counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers.

School counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists are frequently the first to see kids who are sick, stressed or traumatized — especially in low-income districts. Schools with such services see improved attendance rates, better academic achievement and higher graduation rates as well as lower rates of suspension, expulsion and other disciplinary incidents.

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By contrast, there is no evidence that increased police presence in schools improves school safety. Indeed, in many cases, it causes harm. When in schools, police officers do what they are trained to do, which is detain, handcuff and arrest. This leads to greater student alienation and a more threatening school climate. In fact, North Dakota has the 14th highest student arrest rate in the nation.

Read more about North Dakota’s Cops and No Counselors report at: https://www.aclund.org/en/publications/cops-and-no-counselors-north-dakota.