Police-free schools movement faces first major test as students return to classrooms

By: | March 24, 2021

The pandemic had already forced students out of classrooms when George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer pushed school leaders nationwide to reconsider the role cops play on campuses. Now, as students trickle back into schools for the first time in a year in many places, including the city where Floyd was killed, districts that severed ties with police departments face their first big test.

Across the country, advocates for police-free schools said the moment offers mixed emotions. After years of advocacy and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that gave their movement unprecedented momentum, proponents said the return to in-person learning provides an opportunity to prove that police aren’t necessary to maintain safe schools.

But they’re also on edge about whether districts are fully committed to less punitive school safety strategies, especially as pandemic-induced disruptions and public health rules like mask mandates drag on. After the lengthy shutdown where students faced family illness, economic instability, isolation and learning loss, some experts worry that many could return to schools with trauma leading to behavioral challenges.

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