The debate over whether police officers and sheriff’s deputies should be assigned to Fresno Unified school campuses heated up Thursday evening during a special board meeting on the proposed 2020-21 budget for California’s third-largest school district.
Sixty people submitted public comments urging the board to end the district’s employment of law enforcement officers on campus.
Some noted that the Minneapolis public school system abruptly ended its contract with the city’s police department after George Floyd, a 43-year-old black man, died on Memorial Day at the hands of police.
Fresno resident Adrienne Carcha-Diaz, whose comment was read during the meeting by chief of staff David Chavez, said students of color are profiled by police and are more likely to wind up in the criminal justice system. She said the district should shift money spent on police officers to culturally relevant mental health resources.
“Studies show that schools that either eradicate or even reduce punitive discipline policies and replace them with restorative ones see huge drops in discipline issues and rid the need for police officers on campus, not that there was ever a need for them to begin with,” she said in her comment.
Student Opinion Is Mixed
Student trustee Joshua Camarillo, noting that he was speaking only for himself and not other students, said resource officers help keep campuses safe, intervening as needed when violence breaks out and also providing assistance to students in crisis.
“I see them as helpful and beneficial to our learning,” he said.
But the other student trustee, Richard Romero, said he knows some students are scared when they see a cop on campus because they’ve heard stories of officers abusing their power when dealing with students of color.
Trustee Carol Mills said she would oppose taking police off campuses, especially in light of increasing activity by the Bulldog gang in the Fresno High area.
Mills: Many Support Campus Cops
Mills said she believes the 60 people who submitted public comments don’t represent the majority of Fresno Unified residents.
“After Mr. Chavez read those statements, I started getting a bunch of emails and text messages from people urging me to not support reducing that and how they feel it’s important for student and staff safety,” she said.
Mills said campus officers have turned their attention to issues “that are bubbling up right outside our campus fences.”
And she questioned whether the district should even be talking about ending the contracts when they are not due to expire at this time.
Termination Clauses Available
But deputy superintendent Ruthie Quinto said that the contracts contain termination clauses and could be ended if the board so desires.
On Monday afternoon, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry said the district budgeted nearly $3 million for police officers, sheriff’s deputies and county probation officers for the 2019-20 school year, with 83% going to the Fresno Police Department to provide school resource officers and school neighborhood resource officers.
The district asked the police and sheriff’s departments to bill only 40% of the contracted amount after schools closed through the end of the school year, and the probation department submitted no bills for the period, she said.
The officers are assigned to the district’s middle and high schools, plus Hamilton and Wawona K-8 schools, Henry said.
Trustee Veva Islas, who was advocating for the district to end its contracts for campus police officers even before Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests nationwide, criticized Mills for calling the public comments a vocal minority, which Islas termed “dismissive.”
Doing so ignores the participation in protests by thousands just in Fresno alone as well as tens of thousands across the nation who are seeking social justice and an end to racial targeting and excessive force directed by police at people of color, Islas said.
‘Not Our Purview’
Islas said she was glad that Quinto noted the law enforcement agency contracts have termination clauses. And, she added, neighborhood crime issues are not the district’s responsibility.
“Outside of our campuses is not our purview,” she said. “Outside of our campuses is the responsibility of our city. And so it should be paid for from and coming from our city’s budget, not our own.”