The future of a program that places local police officers at public schools is in question after the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Board of Education voted in favor Wednesday of passing a “Positive School Climate Policy” resolution.
The resolution sets forth recommendations for a comprehensive, multi-year plan to ban suspensions and expulsions for WCCUSD students accused of “willful defiance,” a category referring to non-violent offenses at school. The policy calls for the implementation of a “restorative justice” model on WCCUSD campuses that emphasizes student intervention methods over removing defiant kids from classrooms.
While the Board of Education passed the resolution unanimously, with all members agreeing on the need to ban suspensions for “willful defiance,” board member Mister Phillips raised concern over one part of the resolution that some fear will result in the reduction or elimination of School Resource Officers on campuses. The district has a contract with local law enforcement agencies through 2019 assigning SROs to assist on district campuses.
The resolution approved Wednesday states, “funding for law enforcement should be re-directed towards the reduction of class sizes and total class loads to support restorative justice practices.”
That sentence echoes sentiments by some students and youth advocacy groups that on-campus police disrupt rather than assist in promoting safety and academic achievement.
Phillips says there needs to be more investigation and public vetting on the effectiveness of the SRO program before any decision is made to de-fund them.
The defenders of SROs have included district teachers and the mayors of Pinole and San Pablo, who say the on-campus officers serve as mentors rather than disciplinarians.
“Pinole Valley High School had one shooting, one scare of someone being on campus with a gun, and a fight involving a knife,” Pinole Mayor Debbie Long said. “Since placement of an SRO, there have been no comparable incidents. They are called school resource officers because they are a resource.”
Earlier this week, the Richmond Police Department released an informational video describing its SRO program:
“Our goal here…is to mentor these young people,” Richmond police Sgt. Lynette Parker, who supervises the SRO program in Richmond, said in the video. “We have an open door policy, we have children coming in and out every day. We give them direction. We give them guidance. We advocate for them. Our mentoring program is the foundation of our SRO program.”
Also in the video, several educators at Sylvester Greenwood Academy said SROs made them feel safe at school and assisted staff with student intervention and training.
“Officer Lewis…has been critical to the students’ safety, my safety,” teacher Lisa Lipscomb said. “I go to him frequently, discuss how to handle certain situations.”
San Pablo Mayor Cecilia Vegas added that the program is part of her city’s community policing model that encourages deeper relationships between officers and the community members they serve. Officials with the Richmond Police Department echoed that sentiment. The department has won awards for installing a community-policing model credited with reducing violent crimes, including homicides. Working directly with youth is part of that model, officials said.
The “Positive School Climate Policy” has been developing since Spring with help from a working group of stakeholders, including parents, teachers, community advocates and principals.
The working group agreed that banning willful defiance was the correct course of action amid data showing that removing students from school negatively impacts their academic achievement, and disproportionately impacts minority students, especially African Americans. But it found that eliminating willful defiance wasn’t enough, and so it made further recommendations aiming to address school climate as a whole and to identify resources needed to ensure its success.