Presence of police at school shouldn’t change role of district employees

The York City School District Thursday became the first in York County – and one of only a handful in Pennsylvania – to field its own police force.

District officials say the move was made to improve security in city schools, as well as bolster the district’s image.

That’s an understandable goal, considering the impression some have of city schools: unsafe for students and staff alike.

That suggestion irks some administrators, who say it’s a misconception and unfair.

If that’s the case, however, we wonder whether a four-officer, in-house police department will dispel that belief or reinforce it.

The decision last year to create a district force worried some in the community who questioned the wisdom of armed officers patrolling the hallways.

It turns out the officers sworn in Thursday will carry only pepper spray and Tasers to protect students, staff and visitors from outside threats – as Superintendent Eric Holmes assures will be their only mission.

Will those tools be enough to thwart an attack? God forbid the district is ever in a position to find out.

What we hope does not happen: the officers end up policing the students, becoming the schools’ disciplinarians.

That is precisely what the U.S. departments of Justice and Education warned against in a letter to school districts last month.

The federal officials specifically cited zero-tolerance policies that, while well intentioned, too often apply harsh punishments – up to criminal records – for relatively minor offenses.

The Associated Press reported the letter recommends districts ensure employees understand they, rather than police officers, are responsible for routine discipline, and clear distinctions should be made about the two parties’ responsibilities.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

That admonition is especially important when the precinct is just down the hall from the principal’s office.

– The York Dispatch