CCSF Students' Call for Action Answered

A community college protest that began with a violent clash between police and demonstrators moved from San Francisco City College to San Francisco City Hall on Friday.

Students say, what was supposed to be a peaceful sit-in at City College’s main campus, quickly turned violent Thursday night.

When the dust cleared, one protester had been pepper sprayed, two had been arrested, six officers had been injured, and a small group decided to camp out in a campus building.

The fight is over who should run City College, which is fighting to have its accreditation reinstated.

Friday, protesters teamed up with state and city leaders to officially call for a change in who makes decisions for the struggling college. They say a California-appointed special trustee has been making bad decisions behind closed doors as the community college continues its fight for accreditation.

During Friday’s protest, sheriff’s deputies stood guard at City Hall, while another five San Francisco police officers watched the rally from across the street. Their goal was to prevent the kind of violence that erupted at City College less than 24 hours earlier.

“Batons flying everywhere. We saw one student getting handcuffed, carried by four policemen up the stairs,” said Alondra Aragon, a CCSF freshman. “It was just violent and that’s not what we wanted.”

Aragon says the chaos shows a disconnect between the students and current school decision-makers, adding that’s why protesters are demanding the state-appointed special trustee Robert Agrella resign.

Protesters are also calling for an end to a new payment policy that requires students to pay class fees up-front, at the start of the semester, a policy that protesters say is especially rough for low income and undocumented students.

“A good percentage of students have dropped out because they can’t afford to pay that,” Aragon said.

Friday, a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee unanimously passed a resolution calling for Agrella to be removed as soon as possible.

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos is leading the fight to remove Agrella, who he says has failed to transparency in decision-making, especially after making a decision to give pay raises to three new vice chancellors.

“This is nothing personal, but this is an institution that belongs to the people of San Francisco, and the people of San Francisco right now are being kept out of decision making,” Campos said. “We want fiscal responsibility. We want good management. But that requires transparency, not decisions made behind closed doors without any input from any one of us.”

But City College spokesman Peter Anning says the higher pay is the only way to attract top talent to the school and that the special trustee “learned from that mistake,” adding that he is open to more communication with the students.

“[Agrella is] more than willing to talk to them and explain both sides of the issue and what some of the issues are,” Anning said. “Maybe the students don’t understand.”

It’s not enough for students like Aragon, who spent 18 hours camped in the administration building. She wants Agrella gone.

“We’re peaceful people,” Aragon said. “We’re here for our education and that is it.”

Anning says the school chancellor was saddened by Thursday’s violent clash that ended with six officers suffering minor injuries.

“Had the protesters done what they were asked to do, there wouldn’t have been any violence or perceived excessive force,” Anning said. “Our police were attacked.”

The supervisor’s resolution to remove state-appointed trustee Agrella heads to the Board of Supervisors for a vote on March 25.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano was also at Friday’s City Hall rally. He says he has a bill that would prevent the state from being able to do what it did to the City College elected board of trustees last summer, stripping it of its power.

As for Thursday’s protest, police arrested two students – one for assaulting a San Francisco police officer. The other was pepper-sprayed after police say he resisted arrest.

Both were released Friday morning.

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