While a growing number of American schools are now considering removing policemen from schools, the Hungarian government has cut drug prevention budgets, and will hire police officers equipped with handcuffs and batons to punish misbehaving students.
The Hungarian government introduced a new bill to parliament last week “to counter school violence” by establishing the so-called School Guard, a police force targeting violent students. Members of the School Guard will be allowed to carry handcuffs and batons, and use force against misbehaving students “in a proportional way.” School Guard officers will be placed into 500 disadvantaged schools. The bill will also make children aged as young as 12 punishable for a criminal offence if they physically resist the demands of the School Guard officer.
Families of the misbehaving kids will be punished by depriving them of family allowance, an important income substitute for families living below the poverty line. According to the government, the aim of the law is to deter young people from violent behaviour and protect teachers from violent acts. Although there is no evidence for any growing prevalence of school violence in general, the government claims there is by referring to some online videos that were highly publicised in the media.
The new bill has come under criticism by professional organisations, including NGOs advocating for child protection, the trade union of teachers, and the Rights Reporter Foundation. Critics point out that school violence is a complex phenomena caused by multiple factors, including poor mental health, inadequate management of social relations among students and teachers, social exclusion, and poor school climate.
The school is not isolated from its social environment – kids who experience domestic violence and/or grow up in families that live in poverty will be at greater risk of becoming victims/perpetrators of violent acts. Social exclusion generates frustration that can trigger violence in the school and outside, such as cyber bullying, a phenomena that has become more common in recent years.
Children become victims of abuse and violence much more often than teachers/adults but the graphic videos showing aggressive students hurting teachers attract more public attention. Solutions promoted by professionals and activists range from creating an empowering, democratic school climate, addressing mental health problems by hiring counsellors, supporting disadvantaged families and implementing innovative prevention programs and extracurricular activities.
Unfortunately, the performance of Hungarian schools is poor in supporting disadvantaged students and families. The government centralised the school system and left little autonomy to individual schools. It promotes outdated teaching methods based on frontal instruction. Segregation in the educational system is widespread, for example many disadvantaged Roma students go to segregated classes or schools. Only a very few innovative programs are accessible due to lack of funding and political leadership.
There is only one school social worker per one thousand students and one school psychologist per 800 students. The government spent a very small amount of budget (23 million HUF = 72,000 USD, 6 cents per student) on programs preventing school violence this year in the whole country.
Although drug use is often blamed for violence and misbehaviour in schools, the government spends most resources on law enforcement, whilst grants for school prevention programs are inadequate and contracts are often delayed. This makes it very difficult for civil society organisations to do prevention in a sustainable way.
This year the budget allocated to drug prevention grants had been blocked from being distributed among NGOs. It was likely reallocated into a budget pool for COVID-19 control. According to the financial plans published by the government in May, there will be no labelled budget for drug prevention in the public budget next year. There are no estimates on how much the new School Guard system will cost per year, but most probably multiple times more than the budget spent on drug prevention for many years combined.
Although the presence of school guards with handcuffs and batons is unprecedented, policemen have been appointed to Hungarian schools for several years as crime prevention counsellors. Policemen give drug prevention lectures to children (with questionable professional quality). According to a study (n=1100+ students) conducted by Drugreporter in 2018, 53 percent of students said they attended a drug prevention program with a police officer and only 41 percent reported attending a program with another external professional. The findings show that most drug prevention programs have an outdated approach, focussed on deterrence.