For Some Bay Area School Districts, Police on Campus Is a Thing of the Past

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As students return to school in the coming weeks, campuses will look different for many students – and not just because of COVID-19.

While most students were learning from home during the 2020-21 school year, a number of Bay Area districts severed ties with their local police departments and school resource officers.

Sparked by the social justice movement, and especially after the death of George Floyd, school districts were feeling pressure to keep cops off their campuses. For a lot of parents, it’s complicated.

"I understand some of the emotions from the George Floyd incident, but I also stand with the schools wanting to keep that relationship with the students and keep the resources there, still give a sense of security with the schools," one parent, Kelly Afalla, said. "But I completely understand if they want to take it away."

Another parent, Doug Sweeney of Dublin added: "Nowadays, it’s hard. You have political, social, economic, educational conflicts. It’s a tough one."

According to the nonprofit Justice Policy Institute, as of December 2020, school districts in West Contra Costa, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Altos and Fremont ended their school resource officer programs.

The list now also includes the South Bay's largest school district, San Jose Unified, which has 30,000 students.

Just before the end of the last school year, the San Jose Unified school board voted to move forward without police on campuses, counter to the superintendent’s advice and the position of many of its administrators.

There likely won't be an alternative plan in place in time for the first day of school Aug. 18 because there is no board meeting until next week.

In a letter to parents, SJUSD's superintendent warned that this could also impact large events such as football games and graduations.

Oakland Unified last June eliminated all police and armed security on campus and ordered restorative justice and anti-bias training, allocating $2.8 million for new programs.

The aim is a "police free" response to incidents. Administrators can still call 911 in the event of a bomb threat, shooting or other emergency, but they are supposed to call the district’s "culture keepers" first for nonemergency events like wellness checks or if a student is causing harm or danger.

The culture keepers are unarmed former school security officers who are now trained in nonviolent de-escalation.

Last November, the Fremont school board voted to end its school resource officer program. Then in May, the board reversed its decision and reinstated it due to public pressure from parents. So, this fall, six officers and one sergeant will return to Fremont’s high school campuses.

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