In a contentious night of public meetings Thursday, two San Jose school districts decided to cut ties with police. However, the two boards—those of Alum Rock Union and East Side Union High school districts—each expressed different reasons for banishing cops from campus for non-emergency situations.
The decisions free up hundreds of thousands of dollars for local schools to help students stay involved during a public health crisis that has forced them to learn from home.
East Side Union School District’s Chris Funk proposed a hiring freeze on school resource officers, which would save $700,000 in the year ahead.
Police were unable to prevent crime anyway, Funk noted. According to district data from the last school years, officers issued 31 citations and made five arrests in a population of 26,000 students. Clearly, the superintendent concluded, “there’s not enough activity to warrant having officers on campus.”
“Even if an officer is on campus, that officer can’t stop every fight from happening and that’s an unrealistic expectation,” Funk said. Later, he added: “we all have to take responsibility for keeping our campus safe.”
Funk said his district’s understanding with police is that school resource officers were specifically hired to protect students from an active shooter, build relationships with kids and to prevent major crimes. However, Funk noted, “the chances of an active shooter being on campus is very, very low.”
Daniella Acosta, a recent James Lick High graduate, urged the East Side Union board to invest in greater mental health resources instead. “We as a society always think of fixing the aftermath instead of fixing the root of the problems,” she told trustees.
In a June 15 memo, Funk also recommended forming a task force to oversee campus safety resources, facilitate meetings between employees and students, and to weigh in on curricula about ethnic studies, sexual harassment, assault and dating violence.
On Thursday, the East Side Union board agreed to bring back school resource officers on condition that the district bolsters student programming and obtains explicit approval from trustees. Though the decision left the door open for the possibility of inviting cops back in the future, it effectively ended on-campus policing for now.
Like in the ESUHSD board room, speakers at the Alum Rock Union meeting overwhelmingly supported the ouster of police from campus.
After extending Thursday’s meeting to 11:33pm, the Alum Rock board decided against renewing its current contract with San Jose police, which was set to expire June 30.
“Cutting the contract is a good start,” Law Foundation attorney Julia Souza told trustees, “but it’s just that: it’s a start.”
While the ouster of police in ESUHD was prescriptive, ARUSD Board President Ernesto Bejarano noted that the decision in his own jurisdiction was “primarily a function of budget” and an expiring contract.
“We’re not looking to move forward with this contract simply because this budget reality with everything going on will not allow it for this coming year,” Bejarano explained.
Student suspension and expulsion rates in Alum Rock schools have been on the decline for a number of years anyway, he added. Going forward, however, Bejarano said he believes the best approach involves “diligence and better management” over the district’s $100,000-a-year agreement with police—not outright abolition.
“A hundred-thousand dollars is a hundred-thousand dollars, and we can do stuff with that money,” Bejarano said, adding that he feels that’s a small amount of money in the scheme of things anyway. “I do truly believe that there is common ground here. I’m not entrenched in any of my positions.”
Alum Rock Trustee Dolores Marquez countered that it could at least be put to better use. “I think money would be better spent on other things,” she said.
Fellow board member Linda Chavez agreed, saying police on campus have been a double-edged sword. “I’ve seen officers help children, I have seen officers abuse children,” she said, “and I have seen it with my own kids—two of them experienced it more than once.”
Discussions on student safety and emergency protocols must be ongoing, Chavez said, and are expected to come up again at the next board meeting.
“The sentiment here with a lot of the community is we need to get rid of them,” Chavez said. But she agreed that “we need to replace them with something.”