San Jose school board approves agreement for police on campus
Activist Derrick Sanderlin, who advised San Jose police officers on racial bias, speaks at a protest against police in schools on Dec. 10. Photo by Vicente Vera.

The San Jose Unified School District reaffirmed its relationship with police this week despite protests from community organizers.

The Board of Education on Dec. 10 unanimously approved updated terms and conditions for on-campus police “for the purpose of maintaining a safe and secure environment for students, staff and community members,” according to a Memorandum of Understanding with the city.

Just hours before the vote, dozens of parents and youth with the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition and allied organizations rallied outside the district building to demand the district end the practice of having police on campus.

“Police-free SJUSD,” the crowd chanted while clapping together in between speeches.

Among the group was Derrick Sanderlin who was shot with a rubber bullet in June during protests against police and racial injustice. The San Jose Unified Equity Coalition named its summer resolution after Sanderlin and presented it to the school board on Aug. 25.

The Derrick Sanderlin Resolution calls for reallocating funds used for police services to student care services such as counselors, social workers and other mental and behavioral health professionals.

More than 60 people called, emailed or sent letters to the board urging them to table the MOU and focus on the resolution. There were no public comments in support of the memorandum.

Board President Teresa Castellanos said demonstrators had moved the protest from outside the district building to outside her home.

“I am here at the school district and I do not appreciate what is taking place at my home. This feels like bullying, it does not feel like a dialogue,” she said. “I am trying to do what’s best for our school district and our students.”

Castellanos said the impact of COVID-19 should be the board’s priority because police currently are not on any campuses due to the county’s health order shutting down schools.

However, the school board last year approved nearly $1.4 million for at least 46 San Jose police officers for the 2019-20 school year. Despite approving the MOU this week that sets terms and conditions for police on campus, there is currently no contract in place with San Jose police and it’s unclear if officials will renew the contract when students return to campus.

Rosie Chavez, organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, said the 2017 police killing of her nephew Jacob Dominguez affects the way she feels about the safety of her 13-year-old son who attends district schools.

“I don’t believe our money should be going to the police on our schools and policing our kids, criminalizing them at such a young age,” Chavez said.

Chavez, a drug and alcohol counselor, said there needs to be more interactions between students and counselors rather than between students and police.

“Most kids that are going through things have been affected by trauma, like my nephew who left three kids behind — they’ve been traumatized,” she said. “I don’t know what their mental health is going to be years down the line, and I don’t feel like policing the schools is healthy for the kids.”

Among the updated language in the MOU is requiring students consult with legal counsel before being questioned by police on campus.

“School officials will ensure that student disciplinary matters remain the responsibility of school staff and not the police officer,” the MOU states. “The police officer will refrain from being involved in the enforcement of disciplinary rules that do not constitute violations of criminal law, or are criminal violations eligible for diversion.”

Laurie Valdez (center) speaks about her late partner Antonio Guzman Lopez, who was killed by San Jose State University police officers in 2014. Photo by Vicente Vera.

San Jose Unified Equity Coalition member Jennifer Lewis said the school board is hiding behind bureaucracy instead of acting on the Derrick Sanderlin Resolution.

“They said, ‘That’s not the way we do things,’ but the way they do things has created a school district where Black and brown students are more likely to be suspended than white students,” she said.

After more than three months of inaction from the district, the coalition organized the protest, which included a 22-car caravan around the district building, with many cars displaying signs saying “Derrick Sanderlin Resolution NOW” or “Counselors not cops.”

Superintendent Nancy Albarrán said the district will review the community’s concerns but that more stakeholders have to be involved in future discussions about police in schools.

“We have to remember that there are a lot parents that do not attend board meetings,” she said. “They engage at the school site level and provide feedback through surveys and discussions at the school site level.”

The Alum Rock and the East Side Union High School Districts this year voted unanimously to remove San Jose police officers from their campuses.

A San Jose Police Department spokesperson said the department had no comment on the demonstration or the organizers’ proposals.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.