San Jose school district still weighs cops on campus
The San Jose Unified School District office is pictured. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    A year after San Jose’s largest school district decided to bring police officers back to campus, residents say they are being left out of the conversation.

    A San Jose Unified School District committee charged with reviewing the use of law enforcement and evaluating potential alternatives has made little progress, advocates said. The school board formed the committee last December.

    San Jose Unified Equity Coalition leader Tomara Hall, who regularly attends meetings and engages in public comment, said community engagement must increase. Members need to listen to students who are directly impacted by law enforcement on campuses, she said. The coalition hosted a rally last Thursday ahead of the regularly scheduled district board meeting.

    “We’re going to the meeting to put pressure on the board,” Hall told San José Spotlight. “We want to remind them that the community is still paying attention.”

    The district decided to eliminate law enforcement from its 41 campuses last June, but reversed course by having officers serve as security during campus events, a decision that’s still in effect.

    District Manager of Strategic Projects Ben Spielberg said the committee continues to gather as much information as possible to make recommendations to the board, which makes the final decision. They could extend the work beyond the 2022-23 school year, he said.

    The public is welcome to attend the meetings, advertised through the district newsletter, he said, and can access committee materials online. The meetings are not recorded.

    “We were really upfront about (how) this could be a multi-year process because it is complex work,” Spielberg told San José Spotlight. “If you’re passionate about this issue, I think you’ll be really interested in the types of issues that the committee is talking about and the way that they’re going very carefully and thoroughly through this process.”

    Crystal Calhoun, grandmother to students in the district and member of the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition, said students can’t afford to wait for leaders to make a decision. Funds used to hire officers in limited capacity could be redirected to address the COVID-19 pandemic’s academic and mental health impacts.

    “We have lost a whole year,” Calhoun told San José Spotlight. “Nothing has happened.”

    Calhoun has concerns that there are no committee members from the Black community, a population disproportionately impacted by police incidents. Data from the 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index reveals Black students are suspended at a disproportionate rate.

    The committee meets all of its membership requirements established under committee bylaws, Spielberg said. The specifications require that individuals come from different parts of the district and be a mix of teachers, staff, students and residents. The bylaws require members to “address the experiences of students from historically underserved and underrepresented populations.”

    Juan Angel Lujano, a SOMOS Mayfair coordinator, said restorative justice in schools needs to involve collaboration between district officials and the community. He works directly with parents and students in the Alum Rock Union School District, which has had no law enforcement on its campuses since 2020.

    SOMOS Mayfair is working to implement an official racial equity toolkit to help districts understand how decisions such as keeping law enforcement on campus impacts students of color, Lujano said.

    “The impact isn’t necessarily being taken into account until after decisions are already made,” Lujano told San José Spotlight. “By then it’s a bit too late.”

    Addressing the district’s relationship with law enforcement is an urgent issue that needs community input, Calhoun said.

    “We’re a grassroots organization of parents, teachers, everybody. We’re the community, but nobody has reached out, nobody sits and listens to us,” Calhoun told San José Spotlight. “What are you actually doing for the kids? I don’t want to hear about no more committees.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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