A typical student in a Miami-Dade public school is twice as likely to bump into a cop in the hallway than a school counselor. That’s one eye-opening revelation that nonprofit group the 74 gleaned from a public records request to ten of the nation's largest school districts, four of which are in Florida.
In fact, the group found that of the ten largest districts, Miami-Dade had the lowest ratio of counselors to security staff, a figure of about 0.4 counselors for every police officer or guard working in schools. That worries activists who argue it feeds the school-to-prison pipeline, where increased police staffing and zero-tolerance policies can lead to troubled kids being arrested when they once might have been suspended or given detention.
"I'm not surprised, but it still concerns me really deeply," Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s racial justice programs, told the 74, which is named for the number of children, 74 million, living in the United States. "It reflects an approach to school discipline and school safety that is ultimately counterproductive."
The numbers in Miami are particularly stark. Though the district has a slightly higher rate of counselors to students (2.28 counselors for every 1,000 students) than the national average (about two counselors for every 1,000 students), that figure is still low when considering the American School Counselor Association recommends schools have one counselor for every 250 students.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesman John Schuster says that although the nonprofit's numbers are correct, they don’t show the whole picture. The area's public schools also staff 205 psychologists and 155 social workers on top of the 663 full-time and 80 part-time school counselors. Schuster says the district also hired 60 "student success coaches" this year.
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"Looking at guidance counselors just by themselves is a little myopic," he says.
Schuster says it's unfair to even compare the number of security guards and cops to the number of counselors.
"They're employees who have different training and different duties," he says. "You can't do without either one of them. We do and should have both, and it's not necessarily a numbers game."
As far as the high number of officers and security staff, Schuster says it comes down to protecting students from harm.
"We do have to stress that the district’s number one priority for students is safety," he says. "As you can see by visiting any school, many have a very large area to cover, and they may need a larger number of security personnel as opposed to counselors who are in a central office that students can visit when needed."