San Jose school board updates agreement with SJPD

San Jose school board updates agreement with SJPD
Photo: Wikimedia
By Shaun Borland - Published on December 15, 2020.

In a unanimous decision, the San Jose Unified School District approved its measure to continue having the San Jose Police Department officers on campus. The school district is under pressure from advocacy groups to end its relationship with SJPD, in keeping with the large movement to defund police departments and decrease the reliance on police for matters that could be handled by other agencies.

Last year's SJPD contract cost the district $1.4 million, allowing 46 officers on campus at schools within the district. 

The pressure to remove police officers from schools began in August after the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition introduced the Derrick Sanderlin Resolution. The coalition named the resolution after Sanderlin after a rubber bullet fired by police officers struck Sanderlin during a protest for police reform and racial justice in downtown San Jose. 

According to the San Jose Spotlight, the resolution aims to take the money from the contract with the police department, over $1 million, to provide more access to mental health professionals such as social workers or counselors.

The San Jose Equity Coalition started a petition on Change.org to stop the district from having a presence on school campuses. The petition is closing in on 2,000 signatures. 

The decision to continue working with police comes after protests, letters, and phone calls to end the relationship between SJPD and the school district. KTUV reports that more than 60 people contacted the school district, urging them to halt any agreements with the police department. 

Advocacy groups, along with parents and SJUSD employees, protested outside of the district's offices ahead of the vote. 

To be clear, the school board approved a memorandum of understanding, not a contract for the next school year. There is currently no contract between SJUSD and the police department due to COVID restrictions. Advocacy groups believe passing the memorandum of understanding is delaying any real decision on the proposed Sanderlin resolution. 

"They either aren't aware that we know the difference between the contract and the MOU, or it means they know it and continue to delay or ignore what we're asking for," Sanderlin told Mercury News. 

Teresa Castellanos, president of SJUSD's board, believes the district would be worried about the response to COVID-19 instead. "I am trying to do what's best for our school district and our students," she said to San Jose Spotlight. 

Two other school districts in the San Jose area have ended contracts with police. Police officers won't be on campuses at schools in the Alum Rock and East Side Union High School districts. 

According to Mercury News, the funds saved from the police contracts will help the district's budget issues after the pandemic and budget cuts, not for the mental health initiatives of the Sanderlin Resolution.

San Jose Unified Assistant Superintendent Dominic Bejarano said police officers in schools are essential in situations when calling 911 won't give officers enough time to arrive on the scene. 

Bejarano cited an incident in 2018 where a school resource officer had to pull his weapon when a group of armed men showed up at Gunderson High School to find a student. Despite the efforts of school administrators, the men didn't leave until the resource officer intervened. 

In the memorandum, the district states that officers won't partake in school disciplinary rules unless students break the law. "The police officer will refrain from being involved in the enforcement of disciplinary rules that do not constitute violations of criminal law, or are criminal violations eligible for diversion," the MOU states. 

Due to COVID restrictions, there currently aren't any police officers on school campuses.