With a decision culminating in months of intense community scrutiny, school officials agreed to reconfigure – rather than remove – an arrangement that would bring South San Francisco police officers to the local campus.
The South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously agreed on Monday, March 1, to maintain a school liaison officer maintenance program that was scrutinized by the Social Justice Movement last summer.
While some parishioners and students urged officers to end the program by placing officers on the county college campuses and selecting middle schools, officers ultimately voted to enter into an amended contract with the police department.
As part of the decision, school officials will attempt to negotiate a memorandum of understanding that outlines the roles and responsibilities of officials on the county property. The signed document will highlight the vagueness left by an oral agreement between the two agencies that formed the program three decades ago.
“I think we need to formalize this agreement. Everyone has to be on the same page if we are to move systematically, ”said Trustee Pat Murray. “Everyone needs to know what the relationship is with the police.”
Looking at the terms of the agreement, Trustee John Baker said he would prefer campus officials to wear plain clothes, agree never to interview students alone, and pledge not to arrest students in public areas.
Baker said he was inspired to request the changes while acknowledging the fears and fears many students have when they encounter the police at school.
“There has to be a better way of doing what we do,” he said.
Community members and students spoke specifically about the concerns raised by Baker.
“There is rightly no good reason to keep the police in schools,” said Liliana Rivera, who has been a staunch critic of the school’s liaison officers since discussions about the program began last summer.
Rivera and like-minded opponents of the program claim it exists to service the school-prison pipeline and results in unequal surveillance and intimidation of students from color communities. The police believe this is a useful tool for building productive relationships with the wider South San Francisco community.
The students also criticized the program and gave a presentation last month calling for the program to be terminated. Student trustee Jessica Rangel Cruz doubled that perspective during the meeting, criticizing officials for appearing to disregard the students’ opinions.
“Are you really listening to the students and what they are asking? Because many of these plans that are being made today do not take the students into account, ”said Rangel Cruz, who cast an advisory vote against a proposal to maintain and change the program during the meeting.
That opinion seemed to resonate with Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mina Richardson, who initially called for the agreement to be terminated.
“Our students say, ‘We don’t want it anymore. ‘And you know – it’s time to listen to them. I think that’s what we should do – listen to the students, ”said Richardson.
But when the rest of her colleagues signaled that they would prefer to tweak the format of the program, Richardson’s position softened and she joined the majority.
For his part, Murray recognized the views of outspoken students who opposed the program, as well as those who have privately expressed support for its maintenance.
“While we appreciate the voices of the students who have come forward, these are not all voices that should be considered. So we’re looking at the entire district, ”she said.
In addition to drafting a memorandum of understanding with the police department on the program, school officials also advocated the establishment of a task force to discuss other justice issues in the district.
With the formation of the task force, officials hope to eventually develop a set of protocols and guidelines to address issues arising from concerns from students or the wider community.
For her part, Superintendent Shawnterra Moore expressed the hope that the initiative will make the district a more inclusive environment.
“There are some inherently racist, oppressive systems, not just in South San Francisco Unified, but across our country in multiple institutions. And we have to look at some of them and try to take them down and rebuild them, ”she said. “I think it’s going to be really important to really use this as a platform for how we’re going to engage, process, and make systemic change.”