FUSD Chooses Mental Health Over Police Enforcement
By Isabella Canale
On Thursday, November 12, 2020, Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) held a board meeting, discussing the decisions around returning to school, including the continuation of Student Resource Officers (SRO) from the Fremont Police Department on campus. SROs are used to monitor and protect the school in case of emergencies, as well as counsel students, as a non-legal enforcement officer. Any issue on and off campus, whether it may or may not be a law violation, SROs will assist in resolving it, if it involves students or is on school grounds. Mr Velez says Kennedy SROs work closely with the administration team and some of their duties include: patrolling the parking lots and campus, handling 5150 calls, and engagement in Kennedy’s restorative justice work. Without SROs, this work will have to be done by beat Police Officers. FUSD currently has SROs serving each high school in the district and the program cost the City of Fremont/FUSD $2,500,000 for the 2020-2021 school year.
On Sept 9, 2020, the Board of Trustees formed the SRO Task Force to review the SRO program and consider modifications, in a time of social and economic change. The SRO Task Force includes the following stakeholder members: students, parents, teachers, community members and board members.
After meeting on four occasions, the group drafted their recommendation and will present this Thursday. The Task Force found many notable concerns surrounding the program when reviewing it, such as: lack of consistent direction and goals for SROs on school campuses, as well as racial discrimination. The money saved from this contract would best be used, as recommended by the task force, to support whole child needs, through increased funding for counselors, nurses and social workers.
As mentioned, SROs are used to monitor the school, but other than counseling and patrolling, what’s their goal? Well, Fremont Police Department stated its primary goal was to “ensure a safe learning environment for students, teachers, and school administrators” yet failed to present measures or policies to ensure this was possible. With no policies or substantial goals, SROs don’t have much direction or guidance on how to handle difficult situations with minors. During the review, the Task Force soon found that neither the District nor the FPD collected records of the actions of SROs. The insufficient data and lack of clear policies were two of the three reasons the Task Force recommends terminating the SRO program, as it stands.
The FUSD and FPD’s focus when discussing the removal or continuation of the SRO program is the impact on students. National and local data shows the negative impact SROs have on students. On a scale of 1-5, SROs only made students feel safe with an average of 3.81. Nationally, African-American students are three times more likely to be arrested as their white peers, but in FUSD, for 2015-2018, black students are five times as likely to be arrested as their white classmates. African American and Latinx students have the two highest expulsion rates and are the two highest groups suspended for defiance. They are the highest groups expelled and suspended. The Task Force will use this data to support their recommendation to the Board of Education to remove the SRO program.
With the City of Fremont spending over $1 million and the FUSD contributing almost $1 million of that money, the decision to modify, continue, or remove SROs is one that will affect all Fremont citizens and students. Mr Velez suggests, “Do your own research and watch the meeting on Thursday, so you can be in the know of where we are headed. It’s like the recent election; we are divided, but we need to sit back, wait for the results and build the system together, based on those results.” The SRO Task Force’s report and findings can be found here. FUSD Superintendent Christopher Cammack released a newsletter on Nov 6, 2020 with more information surrounding the upcoming board meeting, along with links to info about the SRO program. The newsletter can be found here. To attend the Board Meeting on Thursday, go to the following link for an invitation: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_NAyVWGmiQzquuuxR_IMGUg
UPDATE 11/16: FUSD voted three to two to remove SROs from high school campuses after listening to arguments from both the Task Force and Chief Peterson of Fremont PD. The board meeting ran past midnight, videos of the meeting and comments made by the public can be found here.