San Jose police officers removed from East Side district campuses
Protesters faced off with a line of San Jose police officers in the third day of protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis. File photo by Luke Johnson.

The San Jose Police Department will not patrol East Side high school campuses for the foreseeable future.

Following a June 11 resolution supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, East Side Union High School District Superintendent Chris Funk recommended Thursday that officers be removed from schools in the upcoming school year.

“I felt like it was important that we do a follow up to that as an action plan,” Funk told San José Spotlight before the school board meeting. “I don’t see the issue that we are policing our students or are overusing police officers, but I definitely get that kids do not have a good relationship with officers.”

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved his plan Thursday, but decided to pull the $700,000 contract immediately from the district’s $300 million budget instead of waiting for fall budget discussions. The board already slashed half of that funding three weeks ago because students won’t be returning to campus this fall.

Cops may still enter school grounds for criminal investigations, school board staff confirmed, but officers must only enforce city laws – not school policies – which was already apart of the former agreement.

Thursday’s decision comes as part of a nationwide reexamination of law enforcement’s role within society, in the wake of the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd. East Side Union now joins school districts like Oakland, San Francisco and Minneapolis that severed agreements with law enforcement.

Also Thursday night, the Alum Rock Union school board unanimously decided to terminate its contract with police for school resource officers to monitor school grounds. San Jose Unified will consider similar actions during its next meeting Aug. 6.

“Having officers on campus for a group of kids is scary and creates anxiety. Since the data doesn’t show that we use them that often, then why not eliminate them?” Funk told San José Spotlight. “I don’t believe in necessarily defunding police, but I don’t believe that police should be responding to mental health issues or medical issues that are tied to drugs. Police should be responding when there is an emergency, and people’s life and property are at risk.”

Funk also created a timeline of other changes, including creating a task force to reinforce staff supervision responsibilities like requiring ID badges, and increasing Black and Latinx student voices in decision making, such as book assignments and reading lists, with the ability to provide feedback on curriculum.

School administrators will also meet with employees of color in for July to gauge their concerns about barriers they face in the district.

Trustee Van Le asked what disciplinary and security options schools will have when it comes to fights and guns at school, but Funk said his recommendation was, in part, supported by data on previous police interaction on campus.

During the 2019-20 school year, 31 citations and five arrests were made across the district’s 30 schools, which represents less than one percent of the district’s 22,000 students. The arrests and citations were for incidents on campus, other than one citation due to an event on the way home from school.

Only Mount Pleasant and Evergreen Valley high schools had officers on campus consistently, Funk said.

There’s no evidence showing the expansion created safer schools, according to Marc Schindler, head of the Justice Policy Institute. “In fact, the data really shows otherwise — that this is largely a failed approach in devoting a significant amount of resources but not getting the outcome in school safety that we are all looking for,” Schindler told NPR in 2018.

Funk said every district principal supported removing officers.

“I think this is really speaking to what we need and what many of us have been voicing for some time,” Trustee Lorena Chavez said. “You didn’t do it alone; You listened to people, you took their feedback into account and you created this. You said this is necessary.”

More than 140 written comments, a dozen public speakers and 2,000 petition signatures agreed.

Activists started pushing for the removal of law enforcement two weeks ago after SJPD officers shot rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters at student-led demonstrations responding to Floyd’s death.

Funk said eliminating the police contract will only make a small dent in the district’s looming deficit, due to coronavirus and Proposition 13, which slashed the rate of property tax revenues flowing into schools.

Community leaders said money saved from the $700,000 police contract could help hire counselors and mental health staff.

Christina Vo, a 17-year-old Californians for Justice student leader, said restorative justice practices should be implemented, where students learn about implicit biases, micro-aggressions and anti-blackness.

“I think it’s just the beginning, because the goal is to make resources accessible to the whole student body, and for the school climate to be safe and inclusive for everybody,” Vo said. “I’m going to be a rising senior at Silver Creek High School, and I have not learned that much about race, and my cultural identity at all.”

Charles Fowler, a 10-year East Side teacher, also advocated for de-escalation training for staff through organizations such as New Hope for Youth and the National Compadres Network

“We need to invest in these organizations that are already doing the work and see what they can do on our campuses,” Fowler said. “It’s not just on the adults in the classes and the schools, but actually the extended network of community that already exists.”

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

Funk_Next Steps Timeline

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