Yorke: We should be investing in counselors

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There is a proposed bill in the R.I. Statehouse that would require, as of July 1, at least two police officers in each public school.

Nothing like your local legislators just slinging it in reaction to world events with a lazy knee-jerk idea that has no credibility and makes no common sense.

Well before Sandy Hook and on an accelerated basis since, good arguments have been made for allocating school resource officers in the elementary schools.

They’ve gone unheeded.

While we have an officer in every high school and some rotating in the middle schools, it should be glaringly obvious that we in Rhode Island have none assigned to protect our precious cargo at the elementary level.

That being said, the tin ear of the legislative proposal doubles down on the obvious, that we don’t have the numbers of on-duty officers to come close to the lazily conjured goal, we have no program to engage retired officers, and we don’t have the budget.

Worse, the legislative brainstorm shows no cognizance of the growing urban district arguments against resource officers entirely.

Organized students and families, based on their reported poor experiences and egged on by liberal thought leaders who point to data they say proves armed police don’t protect the premises anyway, are working hard lobbying for counselors to replace cops in all schools.

Here’s the truth: The student-to-counselor ratio in America really is appalling. It’s about 400 to 1. We’re better here, at about 350 to 1.

Now, let’s think about what a high school counselor has on his or her plate. The big three responsibilities would be selecting school curriculum, prepping for next step collegiate or trade school choices, and the tiny little issues of student worries and behavior shared with psychologists and social workers, if available.

Can you imagine that workload?

It’s not very hard to figure out why the push is on from urban students to exchange a counselor for a cop when they are likely receiving so little quality time in the counseling office.

Minority students bring to school the perception/reality issues that have plagued urban law enforcement for years, symbolized, as an example, by the tragic George Floyd episode and its aftermath. As much as police departments throughout the country are currently stepping up and implementing a re-engineering of their approach within the communities they protect, the work needs to be even deeper in the schools. It seems for every suburban or rural resource officer feel-good story, there are more complaints about intimidation, bullying and a general distrust for the “po-po” in the city school hallways.

Whatever the possibilities to improve what’s happening in the urban school student/police world, the kids don’t want to meet halfway because they believe they want something else instead: the counselors.

With all the lip service being paid to improving the mental health of the country and specifically our youth, it’s unnerving how much ignorance and omission the critical profession of school guidance counselor receives.

We desperately need to invest in the counseling field. Adding two more of those professionals in each middle and high school instead of two more police officers would be a good-faith effort to meet these kids where they are with what they need.

It doesn’t have to be one for the other. Invest in the quality of life of the students and keep safety and security in place.

We should ask our political and education leaders to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on Fox Providence/WPRI 12 and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC.