(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.