Assessing Students' Civil Rights Claims against School Resource Officers
46 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2017 Last revised: 23 Sep 2018
Date Written: September 15, 2017
School resource officers (SROs), trained police officers stationed in schools, have become commonplace in the United States over the past two decades. Their primary responsibility is to maintain order and safety in schools, but they also serve as counselors and mentors for students, and teach classes related to drug and alcohol abuse, gang avoidance, and other topics. SROs’ presence in schools raises important legal questions because they interact with students on a daily basis, and are directly involved in schools’ efforts to control student behavior through school discipline and security. Additionally, a series of Supreme Court decisions has created an environment of limited rights for students in America’s public schools, which is compounded by the heightened security environments found in the majority of schools. Amidst this environment, it is important to consider whether students have any recourse if SROs take actions that seemingly infringe on students’ rights. This article seeks to address this specific question by analyzing students’ civil rights claims against SROs under Section 1983. The available case law demonstrates that the involvement of SROs in school discipline matters can quickly escalate these situations to include aggressive, physical confrontations and arrests for relatively minor misbehavior. Yet, Section 1983 rarely provides students with viable civil rights claims against SROs, even when the SROs’ behavior seems egregious. These cases lend strong support to scholars and advocates’ concerns that the use of SROs, along with other heightened school security and punitive discipline measures, “criminalizes” public school students. They also demonstrate that changes in the ways SROs operate in schools are needed to protect students’ rights.
Keywords: Education Law, School Discipline, School Resource Officers, Civil Rights, School-To-Prison Pipeline
JEL Classification: I24, K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation