Student Walk-Out: More Mental Health Funding, Police-Free Schools

NEW HAVEN, CT — Saying they want to be taken “seriously,” hundreds of New Haven Public School students staged a walk-out protest Thursday morning. Organized by the Citywide Youth Coalition, the protest was to call attention to student demands for increased mental health funding and decreased funding for police in schools.

“We’re here to be heard,” one organizer called out.

The protest began at the New Haven Green at around 9 am As the number of student protestors swelled, they walked down Chapel Street while voicing their concerns.

The Citywide Youth Coalition, founded 45 years ago, noted on its Instagram page that it stands “fully behind our young people and the student body of NHPS as they have organized themselves to walk out today.”

“Why are we here? We have found that students are struggling in school not because they are lazy, but because they do not have access to the support that they need. Our education system needs to center the humanity of students as individuals while they navigate issues at home. Our young people are dealing with bullying, joblessness, homelessness, hunger, violence, death, over policing and mental health issues. Our schools lack the infrastructure necessary to adequately listen and respond to the emerging needs of our students.”

And that includes, they said, “adequate mental health resources that support their needs.”

The group noted that it’s the intersection of the lack of mental health support and the “militarization of New Haven Public Schools.”

“The silence of many teachers in the face of the militarization of New Haven Public Schools and the over-criminalization of Black and Brown students has spoken loudly to us,” the statement from the non-profit reads. “As teachers, parents, and community members, we cannot stay silent in the face of racism and discrimination within our school buildings.”

“We must be loud in our rejection of over policing our students and the militarization of our school system,” the group said. They are calling for “police-free schools.”

Schools spokesperson Justin Harmon told Patch that the school district, “respect(s) the students’ right to protest and we appreciate their concern for appropriate mental health services.”

“The issue arises at a time when the district has substantially invested in school psychologists and social workers to address the stresses caused by the pandemic. We have accomplished this investment largely utilizing federal grant funding,” Harmon said. “To sustain that investment after the grants conclude would require funding from the city and the state, who together provide most of our operating budget.”

Harmon said the police-free schools is another matter.

“The police are our partners in maintaining school safety, which must be a high priority in an urban school district,” he said. “We do not have a large number of SROs—I believe the current number is six, in part due to vacancies, to cover 10 high schools. Even if it were desirable, disinvesting in SROs would yield nothing like the kind of savings the protest organizers are talking about.”

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