SAN JOSE — After the success of a nearly year-long campaign to remove campus police from the San Jose Unified School District, a coalition of parents, students, teachers and attorneys are trying to sustain momentum for reforms, calling for investments in mental-health and counseling services to replace law enforcement as a means for dealing with troubled students.
The San Jose Unified Equity Coalition and its supporters gathered at San Jose City Hall to maintain momentum behind their reform agenda with thousands of students expected to return to in-person instruction in the South Bay’s largest school district.
“This is a moment for the children,” said Crystal Calhoun, a lead organizer for the coalition who has four grandchildren in the district. “It was a long time coming … It literally took 10 months of blood, sweat and tears. What was once tears of hopelessness, are now tears of joy.”
The district’s school board voted 3-2 last week not to renew its $1 million-plus contract with the San Jose Police Department, over the objections of the district superintendent and staff, who had recommended maintaining the partnership. The coalition came together last summer as part of the police-reform movements that sprang up across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis.
Tension over the routine presence of city police at the district’s campuses simmered as the teachers union and criminal-justice reform groups increasingly questioned the benefit of the longstanding arrangement. In recent years, even the police department was directing its officers to stay out of non-criminal issues like truancy and misbehavior.
To critics, the presence of police officers at schools was more intimidating than helpful, and sent the wrong message to students.
“When you start getting to the heart of the matter, you understand that it’s not that students are being bad, as (much as) they are responding to trauma that’s coming from a lack of access to resources,” said LaToya Fernandez, a former teacher and school administrator who founded YouthHype, an advocacy group aimed at empowering young people in marginalized communities.
Students will still face consequences for misbehavior, Fernandez said, but a less punitive approach — including more counseling and behavioral services — will help educators better understand the underlying causes of misbehavior, which can encompass hunger, family abuse and homelessness.
Eduardo Valladares, a San Jose High School teacher and alum who has put his children through district schools, co-authored the resolution and said last week’s vote was a significant milestone to keep Black and Brown students from having their first entry into the criminal-legal system happen on campus.
“Students’ futures are at stake,” he said, “and the school-to-prison pipeline is too real for these kids.”
In a letter Friday announcing the vote on campus police, district Superintendent Nancy Albarrán warned of the potential consequences the decision could have on school safety, and cited the benefits of having officers on campus, including fireworks suppression and supporting assault victims. As a result of the change, she wrote, the district “will likely need to reduce or eliminate large-scale events for public safety purposes as law enforcement support will no longer be available.”
That assessment seems to overlook the fact that police department has historically provided contracted uniformed officers for event security in the city, assuming the availability of officers willing to work those extra-duty jobs. And proponents of the new change point to the lack of strong data, nationally or locally, showing that the presence of on-campus officers prevent or mitigate active-shooter situations.
Such an event, the coalition members said, would be responded to by SWAT officers and other specialized teams that are on-call to respond to active shooters, including the SJPD’s Guardian program.
In the past year, the Alum Rock Union and East Side Union High School districts also opted against renewing their contracts with city police. The added reforms promoted by the equity coalition are entailed in the Derrick Sanderlin Resolution, named after the former San Jose police anti-bias trainer who was injured during the George Floyd demonstrations last year by a police officer who shot him with a rubber bullet as he tried to calm escalating tensions.
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