School board members want to end agreement with police

Resolution would defund police programs, call for Police Commission to develop new protocols

San Francisco school board members want to end a school district agreement with police and remove armed officers from school campuses by re-directing resources to supportive services.

The San Francisco Unified School District board will weigh a resolution on Tuesday to not renew a memorandum of understanding with police, revise protocols for when staff call police, and redirect resources to supportive services by working with The City.

“Our MOU is kind of an attempt to manage [police] but its ineffective,” said Board member Alison Collins, who previously told the San Francisco Examiner about drafting the resolution. “The real, real work lies in getting our own house in order as a district, and also we need support. We can set whatever rules we want but we need support from the mayor, the Police Commission, and the [Board of] Supervisors.”

SFUSD has been struggling to renegotiate its current five-year MOU with the San Francisco Police Department, leading up its expiration in January 2019. Concerns were raised by parent and school board members in 2018 about gaps in the MOU and police protocols after a report of a shooting at Balboa High School.

In the face of sustained, daily protests for the past two weeks over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, several board members are now pushing to go in another direction.

In addition to breaking the MOU, the resolution would direct Superintendent Vincent Matthews to comprehensively review the district’s supportive services by Dec. 31. He would also work with labor groups like United Educators of San Francisco to craft racial bias screening tools for employees and new hires as well as a community school coordinator position.

Some parents, notably to Black children, have previously expressed concern about the lack of a replacement plan lined up to outline police protocols for calls involving students, which Collins said she agreed with. The resolution asks the Police Commission to craft policy about engaging with children in and out of schools and set a standard about what calls constitute a police response.

Student interactions with police in schools are down in recent years, but disparities remain for Black and brown students.

“When Black families begin to tell you we’re being treated better, that’s the only way you’ll know things are better,” said Mildred Coffey, parent organizer with Coleman Advocates, in a statement. “Black children need to be at schools that care for and understand them, which means schools that offer deep restorative justice practices, ethnic studies, fully staffed wellness centers, and full-time nurses and mental health counselors.”

SFUSD would also work to reallocate funds used on law enforcement services — about $45,000, plus another $7.5 million on security aides — to school social workers, restorative justice experts or behavioral health professionals.

Capt. Yulanda Williams, who heads the school resource officer program of 12, didn’t challenge the need for reform but said it would be a mistake to cut ties. The program creates positive interactions between police and students, she said.

“Reform doesn’t have to be a negative connotation,” Williams previously told the Examiner. “I think we would be remiss in our response if we cut out any specific stakeholder. School resource officers serve as an asset to the school community.”

The resolution and scrutiny over police in schools comes at a time when SFUSD faces a potential deficit as high as $148 million by fiscal year 2021-2022, though Gov. Gavin Newsom may undo some of the proposed state cuts adding to the deficit. The Board of Education will weigh in the budget on Tuesday and must submit one to the state by the end of June.

“It’s huge because we really need to send the message that this is going to be a priority we’re going to see in our schools, and I think that’s closely aligned with our budget,” said Commissioner Gabriela Lopez of the resolution. “It’s really showing our funding should be in our school sites.”

But the larger issue of funding and policing lies with The City, urged by the resolution to invest in community-based solutions as well as addressing food, housing, and health gaps. While San Francisco faces a $1.7 billion deficit over two years, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton have pledged to redirect some funding from the San Francisco Police Department to support Black communities.

Board members think there’s room for schools in that plan. They also acknowledge a change has long been needed but said that the intense interest has made it easier to work in coordination with The City as a whole. Board of Education President Mark Sanchez has received more than 3,000 emails on the subject, the most on any one topic in his time on the board.

“It seems to be pretty sustained,” said Sanchez, who helped craft the resolution along with Commissioner Jenny Lam. “We seem to be in this window of time where we should be taking advantage of that.”

The Board of Education will vote on the resolution at its Tuesday meeting.

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