Predicting death in your child’s school in 2023: March for our lives | Marvin Zuker

By Marvin Zuker

Law360 Canada (January 16, 2023, 1:01 PM EST) --
Marvin Zuker
A stabbing at Birchmount Park Collegiate in Toronto. A shooting at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate. Castlebroke Secondary School in Brampton, a death at Woburn Collegiate Institute, staff refusing to work at York Memorial Collegiate on and on and on.

Eight teenaged girls charged with second degree murder, three 13 years old, three 14 years old and two 16 years old. The tragic death of a homeless man on Dec. 18, 2022. I am reminded of the murder of Christie Rose Christie in 1996 and the involvement of a 13-year-old boy. The date, Sept. 27, 1996, a boy “apparently without any values, even perhaps without a soul,” as reported by Ian Harvey in the Toronto Sun.

Annually the New York Times Magazine celebrates lives in their “The lives they lived” issue. The Dec. 18, 2022, story is about 12 children who died from gun violence in 2022, the leading cause of death for children. These children, all victims, are not nameless. They may be our children: “They barely had a chance to live, but their short lives were their whole lives, the lives they lived, and we have tried to tell their stories.”

Racial disparities during youth to the exposure in gun violence in specific neighbourhoods perpetuates cycles of violence. “Black children are now eight times as likely as other children to die by gunfire” (New York Times Magazine, Dec.18, 2022).

School-based policing raises issues. Schools should be a safe place for students to learn and grow, but there is no evidence that schools are safer for students or staff when police are present in schools. School personnel, not police, should enforce school discipline. School personnel, not police, should respond to students with mental health needs. The presence of police in schools — typically referred to as School Resource Officers (SROs) — increases school arrests, instances of physical restraint and suspensions and expulsions, all of which are disproportionately experienced by students with disabilities, especially students of colour.

The presence of police in schools contributes to and perpetuates the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a harsh reality for students with mental health needs and students of colour.

The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act (CNCSA) was introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2020 and reintroduced on June 17, 2021, S.2125. CNCSA limits the availability of federal funds to hire or train police officers based in schools. The Act prohibits schools from using federal funds to hire or train sworn law enforcement officers. It also bans the DOJ Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program from funding law enforcement in schools.

Additionally, CNCSA creates a grant program to fund alternatives to SROs, including school efforts to reform disciplinary and safety policies. Priority is given to local education agencies that terminate contracts with law enforcement. Grant funds can be used to hire and train new staff and implement positive behavioural supports like positive behavioural interventions and supports (PBIS) and restorative justice. Recipients of the grants are required to collect and report data on new models of support, including any disproportionality in discipline rates between students with disabilities, students of colour and their peers.

Profiling is no value. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Fla., Uvalde, Texas, Aurora, Colo. We know them all. We know of these mass killings and school shootings. December 2022 marked 10 years after Sandy Hook. What have we learned?

The reliable predictors might be those that predict all kinds of youth violence. Antisocial behaviour generalizes across contexts. These predictors include low academic achievement, deviant peer groups, poor social skills and/or substance abuse, among others. Prior antisocial behaviour was the result of a 2022 meta-analysis by Jillian Turanovic and colleagues, who systematically reviewed 761 studies on predicting many different kinds of school violence.

What kinds of policies should our schools adopt to reduce the risk of violence? The incorporation of metal detectors, locked doors, security guards, cameras and other means make a school safer? No. Schools with these “devices” have higher levels of student fear, anxiety and alienation from their school in general.

Another option, returning to the “zero-tolerance” approach, the decision that even minor acts of rule breaking that could potentially relate to future violence should be punished harshly and similarly with more severe infractions. Zero tolerance has been the default discipline policy in many schools since the mid-1990s. Suspensions and expulsions arise under such a policy.

Research shows that zero tolerance practices ultimately increase illegal behaviour and have many other negative consequences for student academic achievement, attainment and welfare, as well as for school culture. Furthermore, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project,

… “ researchers find that the frequent use of suspension brings no benefits in terms of test scores or graduation rates. Thus, the often-repeated claim that it is necessary to kick out the bad kids so the good kids can learn is shown to be a myth. In fact, research suggests that a relatively lower use of out-of-school suspensions, after controlling for race and poverty, correlates with higher test scores, not lower.”

A positive school climate is one that fosters youth development and learning necessary for a productive, contributing and satisfying life in a democratic society. Components of a positive school climate include norms, values and expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally and physically safe. This happens where students, educators and families are engaged and respected; are working together to develop, live and contribute to a shared school vision; and where educators model and nurture attitudes that emphasize the benefits and satisfaction gained from learning. Effective school climate measures can reveal whether students feel well-supported socially, emotionally and academically, for example, whether they feel safe, have adults they can go to for support, or feel as if the school treats them with care.

This is the first instalment of a five-part series.  

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, 
The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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