The San Francisco Board of Education announced a resolution last night that would break its current relationship with the San Francisco Police Department if passed next week.
The resolution calls for the termination of the district’s current contract with the police, known as a memorandum of understanding (MOU), directs district staff to limit their reliance on officers and would redirect all money associated with the police into health and wellness programs.
“It’s about redefining how we think about policing and community safety at both the school and community level,” said Board of Education member Alison Collins, the resolution’s lead author. “We need to do things differently.”
The resolution came after weeks of public outcry over the SFPD’s involvement in schools in the wake of George Floyd protests, specifically in regard to protecting Black and Brown students. Commissioners received thousands of emails and virtual board meetings were flooded with people demanding that the school district dissolve its MOU with police.
Officials said the city funds 12 armed “school resource officers,” police officers who specifically work with schools and have completed youth and de-escalation training. They are overseen by a liaison, Capt. Yulanda Williams, to whom the district pays 20 percent of her salary. This $45,000 will be allocated to other health programs, according to the resolution.
Originally, the memorandum sought to outline expectations of the police — for example, police could still respond when there’s an interloper on a campus, or to confiscate a firearm from a student. In the few cases where students need to be interviewed or arrested, police officers must try to minimize harm.
Tens of students, administrators, and teachers who spoke at the meetings this month said the memorandum was violated frequently and did not serve the district as it should, especially toward Black students.
Though the total number of police interactions with students in the 2018 school year decreased overall, 42 percent of those interactions involved Black students and 35 percent involved Latinx students, according to a school district report.
Some memories of police on campus are seared into both the minds of community members and commissioners. At the June 9 board meeting, public commenters recalled when a firearm was discharged by a student at Balboa High School in 2018. Following that incident, an officer allegedly interviewed a student without his parent present. Others tearfully spoke about incidents at Thurgood Marshall High School in 2002, where dozens of officers flooded the campus in response to riots and beat students with batons.
But the commissioners said that it’s not solely a police problem. They recalled several times when district staff called on officers in instances that would be deemed unacceptable by the memorandum.
Commissioner Collins said she heard about a Black parent who had the police called on her when she went to complain about her son being bullied.
Sanchez, too, later learned of one incident when he was principal at Buena Vista Horace Mann in the Mission, where an educator called the police to deal with an unruly student. This happened when he was principal at Cleveland Elementary School in the Excelsior as well.
In 2018, the aforementioned report showed that there were two incidents in which elementary students interacted with officers for either arrest, detention or citation.
Board of Education vice president Gabriela López said she could not think of any situation in which a faculty member should resort to calling the cops on elementary students.
“That’s completely unnecessary,” López said. “Calling cops on kids, especially in elementary school, should not be the experience.”
Even with the memorandum potentially being rescinded on Tuesday, officers still reserve the right to respond to incidents on campus. While commissioners do not have jurisdiction over officers, the resolution asks for educators to stop relying on police if an issue arises.
“The district has a lot of work to do on-site with staff, but it’s still really meaningful to show people that we are not supporting [the police] who have consistently shown to be against us,” López said.
In addition, the resolution asks the San Francisco Police Commission to clearly outline how police officers will interact with students and families on school grounds, a body who Collins said does have the power to hold officers accountable.
But not every person is entirely on board with dissolving the memorandum so quickly.
During public comment at a board meeting on June 9, two self-identified Black mothers to kids in the district said that while they understand the sentiment for defunding police, they want to make sure there are security practices in place before removing school resource officers.
Six school principals felt the same, according to Sanchez.
Commissioner Faauuga Moliga supports tossing out the memorandum, but wants to make sure that student safety doesn’t suffer. He said that violence against Black, Latinx, and Samoan kids occurs outside of school grounds and the district needs to figure out how to support them.
“It’s a safety thing for me,” Moliga said. “You can’t just be like, ‘we divested, our hands are clean.’”
The resolution seeks to address these concerns, many made by Black and Brown families, by instead invoking community-based practices that could help prevent violence.
Advocates for defunding the police claim that there are several situations in which it’s more appropriate for social workers or other individuals who are trained in de-escalation to respond instead of police.
In 2019, there were nearly 29,000 calls to the San Francisco police about well-being and nearly 16,500 calls about a “mentally-disturbed person,” data shows.
On the weekend following the George Floyd murder, Collins began working on this resolution with the grassroots organization Coleman Advocates’s political director Kevine Boggess, who spends a lot of time working with Black students and families in the city. The two look toward implementing models of community mediation, similar to those employed by United Playaz and the Street Violence Prevention Program.
“On behalf of Coleman members, this resolution is about how we build up the skills, talent and resiliency to be safe without police,” Boggess said.
Commissioners will vote on the resolution at the board meeting on June 23, which needs four votes and is likely to pass.