Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) submitted testimony to the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion in which she urged lawmakers to prioritize legislation that will dismantle the school-to-confinement nexus by reallocating funding from school-based law enforcement and investing that money in culturally responsive nurses, mental health professionals, and other trauma-informed staff.
In Congress, Rep. Pressley has introduced the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, legislation to prohibit the use of federal funds to increase police presence in schools and instead invest resources to school districts to hire counselors, nurses, social workers and other health care providers—critical personnel with the training and professional expertise in serving vulnerable students, improving educational outcomes and keeping schools safe.
“When our education system is intertwined with the criminal legal system, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities are disproportionately forced to endure unjust treatment that infringes on their right to learn,” Pressley wrote in her testimony. “Instead of police, we must provide our youth with the proven resources that help them grow and cultivate their potential. Students need counseling, not criminalization.”
Harsh, zero-tolerance discipline policies are disproportionately weaponized against students who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and those with disabilities. Girls of color experience greater rates of police harassment and violence while in school, exacerbating the pushout crisis. Across Massachusetts, Black girls are four times as likely to be arrested as white girls.
In her testimony, Rep. Pressley hailed the City of Somerville’s recent vote to suspend the school district’s school-police Memorandum of Understanding and end the systematic presence of police in Somerville Public Schools, and urged the Commonwealth to follow suit. Pressley also urged the Committee to use the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act as a model as it pursues policies to advance equity and racial justice across the Commonwealth.
“This Committee has an opportunity to be intentional and precise in legislating justice and equity by replacing law enforcement in our schools with counselors,” Pressley continued. “In this moment, it is critical that we do all that we can to root out systemic oppression everywhere it exists, including in our schools. A more just Commonwealth is possible.”
The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act is informed by Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee, her visionary resolution to transform the American criminal legal system that calls for schools to create safe and nurturing environments that provide all students with the opportunity to heal, thrive and reach their highest potential. Also informed by the People’s Justice Guarantee is Rep. Pressley’s Ending PUSHOUT Act, her bold legislation to end the punitive pushout of girls of color from schools and disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway.