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A coalition of students, parents, teachers and advocates from the San Jose Unified School District who successfully pushed the district to end a $1 million-plus contract with the San Jose Police Department last month said their fight is just beginning.
The coalition, known as the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition, is now advocating for the funding to be reinvested into hiring more school counselors and programs that better reach troubled students.
“I’m really excited that San Jose Unified finally (ended the contract) — and I’m saying finally because I’m actually not here to give them a pat on the back,” said Latoya Fernandez, a restorative justice practitioner and founder of YouthHype. “I’m glad they finally did what needed to be done. But that’s not where this ends.”
The coalition wants the district’s board to pass the Derrick Sanderlin resolution that was drafted last year during the George Floyd protests before students come back to campus in August.
Sanderlin is a San Jose-based community leader who provided implicit-bias training and procedural-justice training to incoming San Jose police officers for three years and who was shot and injured by a rubber bullet from police at a May 29, 2020, protest against police brutality.
“He represents how much our communities have attempted to work with San Jose PD,” said Eduardo Valladares, a San Jose High School teacher and co-author of the resolution. “But, San Jose PD has not held up their part of the deal.”
Understanding the issues
Valladares said police are a scary presence on campus for students and removing them was an important step to prevent Black and Brown children from having their first entry into the criminal-legal system from occurring on campus.
“But we need support systems like counselors that are a proactive safety measure that addresses the real issues that this country is dealing with,” he said.
The coalition said schools need to move toward less-punitive responses and understand why students may be acting out.
“When you ask students these questions about what’s going on with them, you’ll find out this,” Fernandez said. “I haven’t eaten a meal in over 12 hours. I did not sleep last night because I have younger siblings out watching while my parents worked third shift. I haven’t had clean clothes in two weeks.”
She said students who act out aren’t bad in nature but rather responding to trauma that is coming from a lack of access to resources.
“When you ask students these questions about what’s going on with them, you’ll find out this: I haven’t eaten a meal in over 12 hours. I did not sleep last night because I have younger siblings out watching while my parents worked third shift. I haven’t had clean clothes in two weeks.”Latoya Fernandez, YouthHype
That is why the resolution calls on the school district to redistribute funds formerly used for police offers to “student support positions” like hiring counselors, school-based social workers, psychologists and other mental and behavioral professionals.
”(The resolution) is a safety plan that supports transformative change in our schools,” said Valladares, who has two children in the district.
However, in a letter announcing the vote to remove campus police, district Superintendent Nancy Albarran said she worried that it may have negative consequences, especially when it comes to supporting assault victims or suppressing illegal firework activity.
As a result, the district would likely need to “reduce or eliminate large-scale events for public safety purposes as law enforcement support will no longer be available.”
Proponents of keeping officers on campus also worry that their off-campus presence would be detrimental in cases of active shooter situations or intruders.
Campus presence not necessary
But, Nisreen Younis, a Juvenile Division Supervising Attorney at the Public Defender’s office said police do not need to be on campus to respond to criminal issues.
“The San Jose Police Department, as evidenced by their swift response during recent events, are ready to respond to any active shooter situation, whether on or off a school campus, whether they have a specific name program or not,” Younis said.
Younis continued that having police on campus instead resulted in districts relying on officers as a “one stop shop” to dealing with “pregnancy, domestic violence, LGBTQ issues vaping, etc.”
“We know that most of these incidents can be addressed using the Education Code, which provides a fair amount of discretion, rather than the Penal Code,” Younis said.
She said as an attorney who represents youth, she has seen firsthand how police on campus leads to negative long-term consequences.
The Derrick Sanderlin resolution also calls on campuses to adopt ethnic studies courses as well as create anti-racist policies and trainings to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Ethnic Studies is more than students learning non-white history or content,” said Hoover Middle School teacher Evelyn Cervantes, who also co-authored the resolution. “It entails exploring and affirming every part of our self, dissecting systems in which we live in, practicing ways of involving ourselves in our community, and showing solidarity and dismantling white supremacy and all the isms.”
In recent years, school districts across Santa Clara County have ended their contracts with police departments.
In the last year, the Alum Rock Union and East Side Union High School districts also voted against renewing their contracts with city police.