Ortiz: We need police-free schools
A San Jose police cruiser. File photo.

    Safety is the top concern of any parent with children in our community. When I became a mom I finally understood that protective “mama bear” instinct that everyone kept talking about. When you have a child, you grow to love that little human more than you ever thought was possible, and of course, you want to protect the people that you love most.

    This is especially true when we send our children off to school. We’re trusting that they will be safe for the day until they’re back in our arms. But safety at school does not mean police on campus. It means having an environment where students can learn, explore and find community. Safety means having adults and classmates who take time to get to know our kids, care for them and support them even when they make mistakes.

    As a parent, I’m able to see my daughter in all aspects of her being: the good, the bad and the ugly. And I know that these latter emotions come up when there’s a lack in an underlying need: sleep, food, attention, love, etc. The actions that she takes when she’s in need do not define who she is, and I know that the best way to address it is to get at those underlying needs. My hope is that we can reimagine and rebuild an education system that can do the same for all kids—a system that is rooted in relationships, understanding and care.

    When a student is struggling or acting out, going straight to punishment doesn’t get to the root of the problem—it erodes trust. Having police on campus and relying on them for “safety” sends a message to students that they need to be surveilled, policed and controlled. It tells our children that we see them as a problem to be detained and removed from their classrooms. It destroys the idea of community and makes our students feel unsafe.

    In fact, data shows that when police are on campus, Black and brown and disabled students are disproportionately impacted. The ACLU found that students with disabilities are detained and suspended 2.9 times more often than those without, and Black and Native American girls are arrested at 3.5-4 times the rate of white girls when police are present in schools.

    True safety means creating an environment in which students feel heard, valued and welcomed for who they are. We create this environment—not police. The answer lies in what all parents know too well: building an environment where youth feel valued, cared for and safe to speak up about their worries. Police don’t make our youth less scared, we do.

    This is not new information though. Our students, families and community organized to remove police from campus years ago. Local district leaders listened and in 2020 we saw East Side Union High and Alum Rock school districts commit to removing cops and investing in counselors. This was and still is a major win for school safety. To go back now to a method that’s proven to harm youth of color and destroy our student’s sense of safety on campus would be disastrous.

    As a parent and as a community organizer, my greatest hope is that one day my daughter will know what it’s like to walk into a system where students are protected and school is made safe because of the relationships, healing and joy created there.

    Lucila Ortiz is a mother and organizer from East San Jose. She is an alumni from James Lick High School and San Jose State University. Lucila has been a community organizer for over 15 years and is currently an organizing director for Californians for Justice, an organization that partners with students of color in the state to build a more equitable and racially just education system.

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