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San Francisco Unified votes to restrict police role on school campuses



(Updated to reflect school board’s action)

San Francisco Unified on Tuesday unanimously approved a tentative agreement with the San Francisco Police Department that limits police involvement in school disciplinary matters.

In approving the agreement, the board modified a memorandum of understanding negotiated earlier between the district and city police, adding amendments that clarified and further limited police authority. The agreement with the amendments will need to be ratified by the police department before it goes into effect.

The memorandum of understanding comes after pressure from community groups who were concerned that unnecessary intrusions by police were funneling San Francisco students into the juvenile justice system each year.

“SFPD records show arrested students as young as ages 8 to 12, with arrests spiking at age 13,” according to a news release from Public Counsel, a public interest law firm based in Los Angeles, and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a community organization based in San Francisco. 

In addition, African American students represented 39 percent of all students arrested on campus during the past three years even though they are just 8 percent of the school population, according to the release. 

The community groups cited research that shows that a first-time arrest doubles the chances that a student will drop out of high school, and a first-time court appearance quadruples those chances. Researcher Gary Sweeten, an associate professor in the School of Criminality and Justice at Arizona State University, also found that “the effect of court appearance is particularly detrimental to less delinquent youths.”

A school resource officer, who is employed by the police department and patrols district campuses, “shall not act as as school disciplinarian,” the memorandum reads. “Disciplining students is a school responsibility.”

Under the agreement, administrators can call on police if student safety is threatened; if the law requires an officer to be involved; or to handle criminal activity by people on or near school grounds who are not students.

But even if an officer is needed to break up a fight between students, for example, the district expects officers to avoid arresting students if possible, said school board commissioner Matt Haney.

“We expect tiers of intervention. If possible, give a warning instead of immediately arresting a student,” he said.

The memorandum calls for administrators to apply restorative practices wherever possible, allowing students to make amends to the people they have harmed without becoming entangled in the juvenile justice system. An amendment approved Tuesday requires the district to provide at least one day of training for school resource officers each year on restorative practices. It also ensures that parents are contacted and are given adequate time to be present when a police officer interviews a student.

Both the police department and district sought clarity about the role of police officers on campuses, Haney said.

“The district and police department should be commended for coming together to create such forward-thinking and effective solutions,” said Laura Faer, an attorney with Public Counsel.

In other matters regarding discipline, discussion of a resolution to eliminate willful defiance of school authorities as a reason to suspend or expel students was postponed until Feb. 4.

Filed under: College Ready, High-Needs Students, Reforms

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2 Responses to “San Francisco Unified votes to restrict police role on school campuses”

  1. Brian said

    on January 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Tiers of intervention that look to better understand the entirety of an on-campus situation beyond thoughtless zero-tolerance policies or police logic and protocol that gets applied to incidents at school the same way they would when responding to an assault outside a liquor store at 2:30 am are much needed. Don’t get me wrong, the intentions are well-founded…school safety and the security of both students and educators, however if you think the provisional drag nets that get applied to our campuses in relation to these existing evolutions only apply to real threats, criminals, and otherwise delinquent individuals, think again.
    My son, who was actively involved in his high schools agriculture program, student government, and in 11 years of public education never was suspended, reprimanded, or even sent to the office once, let alone in high school, was expelled 10 days prior to his Senior graduation ceremony for having a knife in his pocket on campus one afternoon. Now when I say knife, I mean, “scoring tool”, which was issued to all Ag. Welding students so that they could make clear marks or etches in steel in which to apply cuts or welds. His welding class was two periods after lunch, and yes, his welding teacher did ask the kids to keep those and other tools in their vehicles until coming to class during 6th period. These specific little instruments (3 inches – 2 inch handle, 1 inch blade), had a clip allowing them to be placed into a front shirt pocket or hip pocket for easy access when working in the shop with materials, he inadvertently left in his front pocket following lunch break when working through his lunch period on his county fair project. He then proceeded to his math class, and happened to cross paths with the school resource officer and other local officers who were sweeping campus per an anonymous tip/lead that there was to be a large gang conflict on campus that afternoon. When the officer saw the clip in my son’s pocket, she asked if it was a knife. My son responded that is was a scoring tool for welding, but did have a blade. She asked him to put his hands against the wall in front of all his peers in the hallway, removed the tool from his pocket, then handcuffed and took him to the office. The office called me at work, (I am an educator by the way and have worked with this school, its teachers, and administrators for years as a professional development coordinator, and previously taught within the district), and I was notified by a long-time colleague and friend that is the Vice Principal that my son was being detained and would be released to my custody because of who I am. Once there, I was informed of what happened, informed that my son was very compliant and apologetic and had been polite and respectful to all involved (no duh, that is how he was raised), but that he would be immediately expelled due to the district’s zero tolerance policy and that he was being cited as carrying a weapon on campus as an adult due to the fact that he was 18 as a citation by the city’s police department. Because he would not be able to finish his final exams, he would have to NOT graduate with his class, but return for summer school to take his required senior year classes. I was able to get letters written on his behalf from his welding teacher regarding the tool, all his other teachers regarding his behavior and citizenship, and his administrators regarding his service in student government in years past. The district opted to let him finish his finals from home remotely, he could not attend the last 8 days of school, and he was allowed to walk and graduate with his peers thankfully. The citation for carrying a weapon on campus was out of their control and was being pursued by the DA’s office as a felony because of his age. We had to attend court hearings for the next three months before a judge finally looked over all the evidence and letters of support and threw it out of court while chastising the DA’s staff for even allowing it to go this far. The whole experience was horrific for our family, and a learning experience we had not planned on to say the least. Had the school site administrator had the discretion of making a tiered, informed response to the given situation and not been hand-tied by a district-wide zero tolerance policy and had the police officers involved had a process by which to manage the situation without exercising the full extent of the law often applied to real criminals, then it would have all began and ended in the hallways or the office of that school that afternoon.

  2. Regis said

    on January 16, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Good Grief! The over reaction and total over reach of authority at the school is a good example of how far we’ve come and how little common sense we now have. The absolute zeal with how your son was handcuffed, arrested, prosecuted and denied due priveleges (like graduation) brings to mind a totalitarian police state and this is at a school!

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