Pressure mounts for San Jose Unified School District to remove police from campuses
San José Unified Equity Coalition member Jeffie Khalsa helped to paint a mural dedicated to the lives lost to San Jose police and the school-to-prison pipeline. Photo by Vicente Vera.

After community activists said their recent rally against police on San Jose Unified School District campuses fell on deaf ears with school board members – they mobilized a second time on Thursday.

This time, the crowd did not shrink.

“It’s actually pretty exhausting and heart-wrenching for these families to have to continue to do this,” said Tomara Hall, a special education teacher and member of the San José Unified Equity Coalition, who rallied outside the district’s headquarters with 30 other educators, parents and students. “It shouldn’t have to take so long to address an immense need.”

Inside, the San José Unified Board of Education met for the first time this year. Though there was no item on the agenda related to policing on campus, advocates said they needed to make their voices heard.

Advocates urged trustees to adopt the “Derrick Sanderlin Resolution” to remove police from district schools. The resolution is named after the activist who was shot with a rubber bullet in June during protests against police and racial injustice.

In December, the San José Unified Equity Coalition, which is an organization committed to racial equity and safety for students, rallied trustees to adopt the resolution. Instead, the trustees approved an agreement with updated guidelines for police officers on campus – a move that appeared to support keeping cops on campuses.

Trustees, however, defended the decision by saying the district does not have a current agreement with the San Jose Police Department.

Other South Bay school districts, such as the Alum Rock Union and the East Side Union school districts, last year voted unanimously to remove San Jose police officers from their campuses. San José Unified has yet to take the same action.

On Thursday, a caravan with 20 cars circled the district headquarters, displaying signs saying “CARE NOT KKKOPS” and “EDUCATION NOT INCARCERATION.” A sign in front of the building read “POLICE-FREE SJUSD NOW.”

Hall and other supporters said they needed to keep pressure on the school board to pass the resolution, first introduced on Aug. 25.

“It’s been a long road and yet there’s still silence – it’s frustrating,” Derrick Sanderlin said. “I just know by seeing the faces in this crowd how many of you have been on this road, fighting those same fights.”

Community activist Derrick Sanderlin presides over Thursday’s rally calling for the San José Unified School District to end its relationship with San Jose police officers. Photo by Vicente Vera.

After sustaining the rubber bullet injury, Sanderlin said he was ready to go home, but the messages he started receiving from friends and family convinced him that something needed to be done. “I never really liked being in the forefront,” he said. “But getting messages from my friends and seeing the way the community was reacting, I had to turn it into something.”

SJUSD last year approved a nearly $1.4 million contract for at least 46 police officers on campuses. Though there is no contract in place with San Jose police for the rest of the school year, it’s unclear if another contract will be approved when students return to in-person instruction.

Sanderlin co-authored an op-ed for this news organization Thursday saying officers on campus perpetuate trauma and the school-to-prison pipeline. He also said six campus police who are supposed to protect students in SJUSD have officer-involved shootings on their records.

Community artists on Thursday unveiled a small mural depicting people killed by San Jose police over the past 20 years. They arranged candles and flowers at its feet. Protesters gathered around the entrance of the building with cups of hot tea and chanted phrases like, “They think this is a game, but we’re not playing.”

Public defender Sajid Khan came with his two young sons who are in second grade and preschool at a private Muslim school, but says he hopes to enroll them in his alma mater, San Jose High School.

“It’s important that they understand the realities of the community they live in,” he said. “I want to model to them this sense of righteous outrage against injustice and also to show them that they have a role to play in the community.”

Public defender Sajid Khan attends Thursday’s rally with his two young sons, Sulaiman and Shakur, to show them the role they can play in the community. Photo by Vicente Vera.

Newly-appointed president of the school board, Brian Wheatley, said he met virtually with members of the coalition on Wednesday to talk about their demands.

He declined to comment on the Derrick Sanderlin Resolution because it might come before the school board at some point. He also said he would not comment on whether he plans to introduce the resolution at future board meetings.

“It’s been a very positive process,” he said of the meeting with coalition members. “The next time the issue (of police on campus) is scheduled to come before us is in March in connection with the school site safety plans.”

San José Unified Equity Coalition member Jeffie Khalsa isn’t convinced the chats will lead to change.

“They’ve said a lot of phrases like, ‘This is a conversation, we’re continuing the conversation,’ but it just feels like a lot of words and a lot of delaying tactics,” Khalsa said.

Advocates also voiced concern about transparency and public participation during the board meetings.

In a change implemented at the start of the year, residents must now turn in a request form to make a public comment before noon on the day of the meeting.

Wheatley did not respond to questions about why this change was made.

“I think this is just going to silence more people,” Khalsa said. “People who didn’t know about this change won’t be able to call in, and this comes after we asked them to make the comment and discussion process more accessible.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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