San Jose’s low-income schools see large share of police calls
Schools in the East Side Union High School District saw a disproportionate amount of police calls. A student in the district lines up for a free lunch in this file photo.

In the last five years, police logged at least 9,200 calls for service to schools in San Jose. A disproportionate amount came from high schools with high populations of minority students or students living in poverty, a data analysis by San José Spotlight found.

Seven of the 10 schools with the most police service calls to campus are in the East Side Union High School District, the analysis shows. Independence High School topped the list with at least 512 calls since 2016. Lincoln High School and Gunderson High School in the San Jose Unified School District, and Branham High School in the Campbell Union High School District also experienced high numbers of calls.

The 10 campuses account for almost 40% of all service calls since 2016, the data shows.

San José Spotlight analyzed five years worth of SJPD calls for service data published on the city’s open data portal. Each call represents one incident where officers arrived at a school in response to a civilian call or because they independently decided to visit. Not all calls are for criminal incidents, and they don’t always result in police taking action or writing a report.

The analysis doesn’t include calls to campuses during the height of the pandemic between April 2020 and March 2021. It also doesn’t include calls for fire alarms, as hundreds of those calls were either canceled or unfounded events.

Law enforcement entered the 10 schools between six to 12 times a month on average, according to the analysis.

Police reported meeting with citizens or community policing as the reasons for one out of every six of those visits. But police also responded hundreds of times for disturbances, drugs and mental health crises, among other issues, over the last five years.

San Jose police logged significantly fewer calls for service to affluent schools, charter and private schools over the same period, the analysis shows. Of the 10 schools with the most service calls, nine reported that at least half of their student population qualified for free and reduced lunch programs—meaning students are in low-income households, foster care or experiencing homelessness.

Disparities are apparent even within the same school district.

Evergreen Valley High School and Independence High School are roughly the same size, with student populations that are mainly minority ethnicities. But Independence, which has roughly three times as many students living in poverty as Evergreen, had twice as many service calls, according to the analysis.

Solutions

In a statement to San José Spotlight, East Side Union High School District Superintendent Glenn Vander Zee said the district is committed to building equitable communities.

"As part of our equity initiatives and in an effort to direct and redirect resources and programs most appropriately, the East Side Union High School District has been tracking data of citations issued to district students," Vander Zee said. He added that on-campus citations have declined from 82 in 2016-17 to 24 citations in 2018-19, the last full in-person school year.

These revelations come at a time of controversy over the presence of school resource officers on San Jose campuses.

Last month, a coalition of students, parents, teachers and advocates celebrated San Jose Unified School District’s decision to end a $1 million contract with the San Jose Police Department. Alum Rock and East Side school districts also voted to remove police from their campuses last year.

Crystal Calhoun, a member of the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition, whose grandkids attend school in the San Jose Unified School District, said having police on campus does more harm than good.

She said schools should call law enforcement to address dangerous or threatening situations, but they should not handle behavior problems. Punitive approaches push vulnerable students into the school-to-prison pipeline, she added.

“Instead, we want educators, we want social workers, we want community from all walks of life to get involved,” Calhoun told San José Spotlight. “Police on campus don’t save kids.”

Calhoun also said she’s not surprised to see a disparity in service calls among schools.

“There’s a real wealth gap in school districts,” she said. “And the school board only wants to listen to the wealthy schools.”

Students living in poverty might act out because they’re hungry, lack clean clothes or don’t have a stable life at home, local youth advocate and former educator LaToya Fernandez said at a recent news conference celebrating the removal of police from SJUSD campuses.

“When you get into the heart of the matter, you’d realize that students are not being bad,” Fernandez said. “They’re responding to trauma.”

A 2016 study by the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on shows that more than half of California schools offer their workers little or no guidance on when police should be called to control student behavior.

Alum Rock Union School District Board President Corina Herrera-Loera said this upcoming school year will be the real test for their decision to remove police from campuses.

"We'll work to support our teachers and make sure they have the resources to de-escalate situations," she told San José Spotlight. "We also want to bring in people who live in the community and know the struggles that our students are going through... We want it to be a safe environment for them."

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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