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Tom Horne Ignores the Benefits of School Counselors on Arizona Students

In the first two months of office, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has uprooted programs that educators and health professionals say are critical to the well-being and growth of our state’s students. One of his first acts in office was removing any reference to Social Emotional Learning from the Arizona Department of Education website, followed by dismantling the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee. 

This isn’t Horne’s first foray into politicizing the Arizona Department of Education. He previously held this office from 2003-2011, during which he wrote and championed a bill targeting and preventing ethnic studies from being taught in public districts. This move was after his 2006 investigation into Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, which was designed to help improve graduation rates and test scores for some of the district’s historically underserved populations (64% of Arizona students are Hispanic). Later, as the Attorney General, Horne defended this law that a federal court eventually overturned after the court found that it was motivated by racial discrimination and violated pupils’ constitutional rights.

Now, Horne is at it again – he recently announced that any schools wishing to apply to the School Safety Grant Program must have a School Resource Officer or “highly-trained” security guard on campus if they want to use the grant for school counselors. While Horne’s publicity team continues to tweet Horne’s support for counselors, his actions are quite different. Arizona continues to be far below the recommended ratio of 250:1 students to counselors, with current data showing around 650:1. 

The Data Doesn’t Support Student Resource Officers

Student resource officers (SROs) are law enforcement officers assigned to schools to maintain safety and security within the school environment. While having armed officers in schools may seem appealing to some as a way to prevent school shootings and other acts of violence, the reality is that SROs are not always beneficial to students and can do more harm than good.

SROs can create a hostile and intimidating environment for students. Schools should be places where students feel safe, respected, and supported. However, the presence of armed officers can have the opposite effect, making students feel like they are constantly being monitored and suspected. This can lead to increased stress and anxiety, negatively impacting academic performance and overall well-being. The presence of SROs can also disproportionately impact students of color, who are already at a higher risk of being criminalized and subjected to racial profiling.

Additionally, SROs can lead to the criminalization of minor infractions that school administrators would otherwise handle. This can result in students being arrested and charged with crimes for behavior that would typically result in suspension or detention. These policies have led to a “school-to-prison pipeline,” where students are pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system, disrupting their education and setting them on a path toward future involvement with the criminal justice system.

Use of Force vs. De-escalation 

Another issue with SROs is that they are often not trained in the unique challenges of working in schools. Officers receive training in law enforcement and the use of force but not in the social and emotional development of young people or the unique dynamics of the school environment. This can result in SROs using excessive force or responding inappropriately to situations that could be handled more appropriately by trained school staff or counselors. Furthermore, SROs may also be more likely to arrest or detain students rather than use restorative justice practices that are proven more effective in addressing misbehavior and improving school culture. 

The presence of SROs can also undermine the relationship between students and teachers. When SROs are present, teachers may be less likely to address minor infractions and instead rely on the SRO to handle the situation. This can create a power dynamic that removes teachers as the primary authority figure, and students may be less likely to trust and confide in their teachers. This can also make it more difficult for teachers to address underlying issues, such as mental health concerns, that may be contributing to misbehavior.

Is there Evidence that SROs are Effective?

Finally, there is a lack of evidence that SROs effectively prevent school shootings or other acts of violence. While SROs can respond quickly to active shooter situations, there is no evidence that their presence is a deterrent to would-be shooters. Studies have shown that school shootings are more likely to occur in schools with police officers present. Furthermore, the focus on SROs as a solution to school violence ignores the root causes, such as access to firearms, lack of mental health resources, and systemic inequalities.

Where do School Counselors Come in?

School counselors are a valuable resource for students, providing various services that help students succeed academically and emotionally. Their positive impact on students can be seen in several key areas. 

Academic support is one of the primary ways that school counselors have a positive impact on students. They work with students to develop academic plans, help them choose courses, and support them in college or post-secondary education planning. School counselors can also provide guidance on college applications, financial aid, and other aspects of the college-going process. By offering academic support, school counselors help students achieve their full potential and set them on a path toward future success.

Emotional and Cultural Support

School counselors have a positive impact on students by offering emotional support. They provide a safe and confidential space for students to discuss their feelings and concerns. Whether students are struggling with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, or need someone to talk to, school counselors can offer guidance and support. This emotional support can make a significant difference in a student’s life, helping them to feel heard and understood and to develop coping strategies for dealing with stress and adversity.

School counselors also play a role in promoting a positive school culture. They work with students, teachers, and parents to address conflicts and create a safe and inclusive learning environment. By fostering a positive school culture, school counselors help ensure that all students feel valued, respected, and supported, promoting academic success and well-being. This is a critical piece of the puzzle in preventing bullying and violence that can lead to school shootings.

In addition, school counselors work to address systemic barriers that may prevent students from achieving their full potential. They provide support and resources for students from low-income families, students of color, and first-generation college-goers. By addressing these barriers, school counselors help to level the playing field and ensure that all students have equal access to opportunities for success.

Counselors Have a Positive Impact

Finally, school counselors are crucial in preparing students for life after high school. They provide guidance on various topics, including career exploration, job search strategies, and life skills. By helping students prepare for the challenges of adulthood, school counselors set them on a path toward success and independence.

In conclusion, the positive impact of school counselors on students is evident. They provide academic support, emotional guidance, promote a positive school culture, address systemic barriers, and prepare students for life after high school. By investing in school counseling services, schools can ensure that all students have access to the support and resources they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. School counselors are a valuable resource for students and are crucial in promoting a positive and productive learning environment.

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