Credit: Brooke Anderson/Courtesy of Oakland Education Association
Protesters last week call for eliminating Oakland Unified's district police force.

A majority of the Oakland Unified school board, along with the superintendent, on Wednesday signaled support for dismantling the district’s police force. But the board won’t vote on the proposal until June 24.

But in nearby West Contra Costa Unified, the five-member board voted unanimously on Wednesday to cancel the district’s contracts with local police departments for school resource officers, or campus police. Oakland Unified has its own in-house police force, while West Contra Costa pays local police to patrol its campuses.

In Oakland Unified, board member Roseann Torres introduced “The George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate Oakland Schools Police Department,” which was also backed by board member Shanthi Gonzales and dozens of speakers who called into the virtual meeting, along with about 500 participants watching on Zoom. It would shift about $2.5 million spent on 10 sworn officers and police administrators to instead pay for student support services such as counselors and coordinators for “restorative justice,” which is an alternative form of conflict resolution that allows students to make amends for wronging others through discussions.

The board did not discuss the resolution, but did respond to reports by board president Jody London and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, in which both leaders said they want to work toward a plan to operate safely with no district police.

To accomplish that, the district must negotiate the end of a contract with the officers that extends through June 2022. Johnson-Trammell said she didn’t realistically think the police force would be out of the district until at least the end of December.

“I am recommending that we move forward to create a districtwide safety plan to ensure safe, healthy, and positive school environments for students and adults without a school district police department,” Johnson-Trammell said. “Together, we can reimagine how to keep our schools safe, healthy and welcoming in a way that builds on our strong restorative justice roots, strong foundation of community schools, and critical partnerships throughout the city to protect our students’ physical safety.”

She said the district’s police chief also supports this idea, but that she was not prepared to complete the plan until the end of December and that it was contingent on negotiations with labor unions that represent officers and administrators.

Torres’ resolution calls for Johnson-Trammell to begin the planning process by July 17 and to eliminate the police force by the time school starts on Aug. 10 or as soon as possible after. But Johnson-Trammell said she doesn’t realistically believe she can start the planning process until late August or to “move away” from an in-house police force until the end of December.

Instead, she said she needs to focus her attention first on planning for reopening schools.

“We’re in the middle of a local health pandemic,” she said. “I do believe right now the prime focus needs to be on how we’re returning to schools and what that’s going to look like.”

Board member Gary Yee said he supported Johnson-Trammell’s vision and wanted to ensure that the planning process would result in an “implementation strategy that’s not just symbolic, but will actually help interrupt the racism we have seen” while also supporting students’ access to high quality education, restorative justice, and positive behavior programs.

Board member James Harris told Johnson-Trammell that he supported the “bold step” she was taking, while noting that some black children can be “triggered” by police officers based on negative memories. But he also stressed the importance of the entire board and superintendent uniting around the plan.

“This has to be about all eight of us together,” he said, adding that the district should also work with the city and other community partners to develop alternative strategies for student and staff safety.

Board member Aimee Eng expressed some concerns about pushing back a September deadline the board had given to Johnson-Trammell in March for a safety plan, saying she wanted the next school year to be a time of transition. Eng said she hoped that plans for reopening schools could include planning for students’ academic, social and emotional, and safety needs.

Board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge was the only member of the seven-member board who did not say whether or not she would support the plan. She pointed out that delaying the implementation would mean less money for the other services called for in the resolution.

Torres’ resolution is based on a plan developed by a community organization called the Black Organizing Project, which suggests that the positions of about 60 non-sworn campus security officers that currently work in the police department be replaced by “peace-keepers.” Torres told EdSource the current campus security officers would be able to re-apply for the new positions.

Johnson-Trammell said she couldn’t speculate about how different positions might be repurposed without negotiating with the union that represents the campus security officers. Unlike police, the security officers do not carry a gun and do not have the authority to charge or arrest.  Torres, however, said that if the board adopts the resolution, staff would be required to implement the new policy.

“When the board votes, it is then executed and that is final,” she said. “This isn’t about renegotiating. This is about a department being eliminated. I want to make sure that’s abundantly clear.”

But Janell Hampton, labor representative for the California School Employees Association that represents the seven sworn officers, said their contract extends through June 2022. The officers see themselves as “a valuable part” of the district and  want to meet with the superintendent “at the table” to share their vision for prioritizing students’ safety and and help come up with “a great plan,” she said.

Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association teachers’ union urged the board to show “courageous leadership” to “end the school to prison pipeline.”  “Black lives matter in school is not a slogan. We must make that a reality.”

Lee Thomas, who represents the administrators union that includes police leadership, said his membership was not 100% in agreement on the resolution. He said some members had safety concerns about what might happen in an emergency if the district did not have campus police and staff or students needed to rely on city police to respond. He cautioned the board not to add new responsibilities to principals as they are transitioning to new educational models when schools reopen.

In West Contra Costa Unified, activists have been calling on the district to dismantle its school resource officer program for years; the teachers union, the United Teachers of Richmond, issued a statement Tuesday urging the district to use the $1.5 million it had budgeted in 2020-2021 for school resource officer contracts to instead be used on  to fund programs specifically for African American students.

Though the proposal was not on the agenda for Wednesday night’s meeting, a resolution was put forth “Condemning Police Violence and Brutality Against People of Color.” More than 25 parents, students, teachers and alumni spoke in response to the resolution, calling on school board members to take the symbolic resolution a step further, and rid the district of armed police officers.

Samone Anderson, a recent Kennedy High graduate who is currently studying at UCLA, said at the meeting that she witnessed her high school friends “beaten, tazed, slammed against lockers, thrown to the ground, put in chokeholds and handcuffed,” by school resource officers.

“Innocent kids are being policed, brutalized and violated in a place that’s supposed to keep us safe, instead we’re being treated like criminals,” Anderson said “…police in our school districts perpetuate an oppressive system that limits the achievement of our black students.”

West Contra Costa Unified school board members at a meeting Wednesday unanimously vote to cancel contracts with local law enforcement agencies for school resource officers.

School board member Valerie Cuevas added an amendment to the resolution canceling the district’s contracts with those police departments until issues of police brutality and institutionalized racism are “adequately addressed.” Though school board member Mister Phillips had suggested that the proposal be brought up at a separate meeting in order to provide the opportunity for the public to comment, the board unanimously voted in favor of Cuevas’ amendment.

Later on in the meeting, during a discussion of the 2020-2021 school year budget, school board members voted to allocate the $1.5 million that had been budgeted for campus police contracts towards African American student achievement programs.

“The presence of armed police officers is detrimental to the healthy development of black and brown youth in our schools,” Cuevas said at the meeting. “And the reason why is because those racist overtones, that excessive force, and those militarized police practices can in fact end up in our schools as a result of the institutions not having addressed these issues historically over generations.”

Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the challenges facing other urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

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  1. Michael Bless 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    These board members could not be more ignorant. Oakland and West Contra Costa County schools are hotbeds for gang and drug activities.

    They are following a false narrative – removing police from schools in today’s society is a recipe for disaster.

    Parents of children in Oakland and West Contra Costa County, I pray for your children as the adult board members and teachers unions are beyond idiotic.

  2. Giorgio Cosentino 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I taught in the WCCUSD and always advocated for African American students, but I disagree with this decision. I was there when a student died in the principal's office from a gunshot sustained in front of the school. One of those who tried to save him said that paramedics were delayed because officers needed to first secure the area before they could enter. The student who died was African American. Without SROs, all … Read More

    I taught in the WCCUSD and always advocated for African American students, but I disagree with this decision. I was there when a student died in the principal’s office from a gunshot sustained in front of the school. One of those who tried to save him said that paramedics were delayed because officers needed to first secure the area before they could enter. The student who died was African American. Without SROs, all students are vulnerable, as response time will be increased. More innocent students could die caught in the middle of a gang dispute.

    Every year, WCCUSD students are caught bringing guns to school. As a teacher, I was attacked by a future murderer, so teachers and staff will also be less safe. Again, innocent African American students who have the misfortune of attending schools in areas with high gun violence are at greater risk of harm. I would like to lead a protest, possibly having students not show up to their online school on the first day of the upcoming school year. We need to let United Teachers of Richmond, and the board and superintendent know that students could be killed as a result of this decision.

    If SROs were roughing up students, then that should have been addressed. I had some concerns with the heavy-handed tactics I had at times observed. Some of the school staff set a tone that made the school a difficult place to learn and teach. A lot of bravado. Did it have to be that way? That might be what fueled this effort to cancel the contract, but the ones with the tough guy approach weren’t even the officers.

  3. S. 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This article is incomplete, and lacks the depth of research to contextualize what these two boards are doing. I do not know the inner workings of the WCCUD. But, I do know that the OUSD Board of Ed has been asked to reallocate the funds of its own police department for years. And, to bring it to its second to last meeting of the year not even as an agendized item - ie requiring … Read More

    This article is incomplete, and lacks the depth of research to contextualize what these two boards are doing. I do not know the inner workings of the WCCUD. But, I do know that the OUSD Board of Ed has been asked to reallocate the funds of its own police department for years. And, to bring it to its second to last meeting of the year not even as an agendized item – ie requiring vote and at leas a discussion – but, instead, to bury it in item X at the bottom of the meeting’s items, was a calculated and underhanded way to use procedure and not do the will of their community.

    Once again showing that this Board of Ed is not interested in fulfilling the will of the people by whom they were elected. But, rather, to fulfill their own, personal agendas; and, in this case they’re trying to buy time as well. So, after burying the item brought to the board at item X, they “appear” magnanimous in raising it for comment by the public earlier in the meeting. Yet, neither discuss it. Nor, even more egregious, do they take a vote on the matter.

    The Superintendent finds all sort of reasons why not to address the issue and CYAs her reasons, and the board members hum and haw in non committal commentary, and EdSource just reports the bare minimum. Let’s not forget that that Super’s commentary, was issued as an e-mail not prior to the meeting but during the meeting as districtwide email to all parents.

    Shame on the EdSource for not doing its job of reporting in depth. Shame on EdSource for not calling out OUSD Board of Ed for the cowards that they are by describing their lack of action and unwillingness to act in the face of the present historical moment and calling them out for just paying lip-service.

  4. James Hampton 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    The Oakland unified School Police have not been blamed or found responsible for any form of abuse against students. What is missing about this defund Police hysteria is what a uniformed presence accomplishes in our schools. Their presence deters acts of violence occurring on campus by students, distraught parents, strangers wanting to take advantage of our children.

    Without any uniformed presence I foresee some who would take advantage and subject our children to possible harm.

  5. Gail Contreras 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    We love our on-campus police at Las Lomas.