Sanderlin, Khan, Hall: An open letter to SJUSD about police in schools
Laurie Valdez (center) speaks at Thursday's demonstration about her late partner Antonio Guzman Lopez, who was killed by San Jose State University police officers in 2014.

Dear Community and San José Unified School District Board of Trustees,

The San José Unified Equity Coalition—a culturally diverse collection of district parents, students, educators and concerned community members—formed in June 2020 in response to the police and vigilante killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We are advocating to remove police from SJUSD and pass the Derrick Sanderlin Resolution, a transformative, community-created vision for restorative justice and police-free schools.

School districts throughout the Bay Area have already chosen to protect their BIPOC students by permanently ending police contracts. So far, SJUSD has refused.

Our efforts since June have included hundreds of public comments at board meetings, 1,800 petition signatures, a community forum centering youth and a Day of Action for Police-Free Schools, including constitutionally protected protests at district headquarters and outside the board president’s home.

Since the Day of Action, SJUSD board members have mischaracterized our coalition as aggressors and bullies and accused us of making “threats.” This is a classic example of mis-perceiving the righteous anger of Black and brown people as dangerous and out-of-control. We understand the role of protests in a democratic process, and will continue to use direct action to hold institutions and publicly elected officials accountable. Our BIPOC families have been protesting against SJUSD’s racist policies since the 1960’s; we recognize that we are the children of their labor and participants in their tradition.

In June 2020, the community pushed the board to pass the Black Lives Matter Resolution and uphold its commitment “to work tirelessly and collaboratively with staff, students and families to dismantle institutionalized racism in our society.” However, instead of working with the community to remove police officers produced by a department with a long record of racism, prejudice and bias, they have dismissed our demands.

At least six campus police charged with protecting students in SJUSD — stationed at Ohlone Middle, Willow Glen Middle, Castillero Middle,and Pioneer High School — have officer-involved shootings on their records. SJUSD has approved nearly $1.4 million for campus police officers, some of whom have histories of violence against our community.

Employing these officers and posting them in our schools is not investing in our students and only serves to perpetuate trauma and the school-to-prison pipeline. Our community deserves safety through de-escalation, counselors, restorative justice and culturally relevant curriculum for BIPOC students, not violence and intimidation.

Trustee Teresa Castellanos characterized our protest as not “feeling like a dialogue.” Let us be clear: the SJUEC has attended every board meeting since June 2020, sending emails and publicly commenting. At the Aug. 25 special session board meeting, which we requested, we were allotted only five minutes to discuss the Derrick Sanderlin Resolution, while the board and superintendent used an hour to defend campus police. To this day, the board hasn’t agendized or passed the resolution. Furthermore, the board has limited the community’s participation using the restrictive Webex platform.

Castellanos is right. This hasn’t been a dialogue, it’s been a one-sided conversation driven by the superintendent. This is why we will continue to organize.

To the board: As long as you neglect the demands and needs of students of color, your inboxes will be full. We will not stop raising our voices until equity is actualized. This is your time to be on the right side of history and propel us into a more equitable and safe San Jose.

To the students and their families: We implore you to join the San José Unified Equity Coalition in this fight for our students’ wellbeing, safety and success. Let us all commit to that unyieldingly.

Derrick Sanderlin is a community organizer at Sacred Heart, a resident of San Jose and a godfather to a student at Washington Elementary in the San Jose Unified School District. Sajid A. Khan is a member of SJUEC, a San Jose High School alum and a deputy public defender in San Jose. Tomara Hall is a member of SJUEC, a special education teacher and equity leader at Union School District, and recently ran for San Jose Unified School Board, Trustee Area 3.

 You can join SJUEC’s mailing list by writing to [email protected]

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