Advocates who want police officers removed from Fresno Unified campuses have sent hundreds of public comments and appeared in person before the School Board to urge trustees not to renew the district’s contract with the Fresno Police Department.
They are vocal and passionate supporters for “defunding” the district’s student resource officers, who provide campus security. Their campaign intensified last year after George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a killing that sparked protests worldwide.
But the School Board also will have to consider the not-so-vocal, but apparently immense, support among many of the district’s students, parents, and staff to maintain the status quo. That support was apparent in recent surveys and focus groups conducted by Fresno State researchers in a project for the district.
Students surveyed in January and February said they “overwhelmingly” would feel unsafe if police officers were removed from campuses.
And a report by the Fresno State research team provided last month to trustees said the majority of parents and staff surveyed want to keep cops on campuses, citing safety concerns.
Contract Renewal Coming Up
The School Board may consider the Fresno Police contract as part of its annual budget considerations that are ongoing now. The district’s $1.8 million contract with Fresno PD to provide school resource officers is set to expire June 30 but includes a two-year renewal option.
“If you believe Black and brown lives matter, then I urge you to follow the lead of Fresno students and residents that have been calling on Fresno Unified School District to remove police from school campuses and reinvest those 3 million dollars in support services for students.” — Dr. Earl Aguilera, Fresno State assistant education professor
The potential of having an impact on that budgeting decision has drawn numerous speakers from advocacy groups such as Fresno Barrios Unidos, the Fresno Educational Justice Coalition, and even a Fresno State professor who have addressed the trustees directly at recent board meetings.
At the April 21 School Board meeting, Fresno State assistant education professor Dr. Earl Aguilera told trustees that having police on campus “is just one part of a broad system of surveillance disproportionately imposed on Black, brown, and low-income students.” He cited a recent national study reporting that schools in the top third of the “most surveilled” schools also were where students were more likely to be suspended and to have lower math scores.
“These findings were supported by research done by Fresno Barrios Unidos, Human Impact Partners, and the NAACP,” Aguilera said. “If you believe Black and brown lives matter, then I urge you to follow the lead of Fresno students and residents that have been calling on Fresno Unified School District to remove police from school campuses and reinvest those 3 million dollars in support services for students.”
Marisa Moraza, youth advocacy and leadership department manager with Fresno Barrios Unidos, noted that hundreds of supporters have submitted public comments since last summer to the School Board, although the district has kept many of them from being on the record. She said she hoped it was only a technical glitch that the district would rectify, and not an attempt to stifle public comment.
Moraza urged the district to end the police contract.
“By removing police from schools, FUSD will be joining a national movement to support and invest in student health instead of punishment,” Moraza said. “To truly be an anti-racist institution, we have to dismantle the systems that continue to uphold white supremacy. We call on the district to pass a resolution to permanently end contracts between Fresno Unified and the Fresno Police Department.”
Trustee Veva Islas questioned at that same board meeting why the board has not engaged in more robust discussions so far. Islas noted that the meeting was the day after a jury found Chauvin guilty of Floyd’s murder.
“So it is really troubling that we are not having a more substantive conversation about policing in our school district, a conversation that I have been asking for, that we have been taking baby steps in addressing,” she said. “And I understand it’s a challenging conversation, and people are on different points of the spectrum. But I think we can get through it if we allow ourselves a chance to have that conversation.”
Study Reveals Diversity of Opinions
Although trustees have not weighed in yet, some conversations with the community have been happening. The Fresno State research team, led by sociology professor Dr. Andrew Jones, sent invitations to 71,194 Fresno Unified parents and 9,014 staffers to participate in a survey. Parents completed 3,045 surveys, staffers completed 3,493, and school resource officers, 30.
The researchers also conducted nine focus groups — four for parents, two for administrators, one for staff, and two for student resource officers. Parents were selected out of a sample of 30,000 parents of students in grades 7-12 that the research study said included an “overrepresentation” of African American parents as well as groups of Spanish-, English-, and Hmong-speaking parents.
Administrators were strongest in their support of keeping student resource officers on campus; staff and parents also expressed support for the SROs, but also pointed to problems that need addressing and areas of improvement, such as more training for cultural awareness.
One Hmong-speaking parent was quoted in the report saying that the student resource officers are needed for school safety.
“If school is in person, it is best to have SRO. It helps prevent bullies,” the parent said. “SRO also can respond faster in any situation if they are present.”
Some parents saw the need for keeping police on campus but also spoke in support of more support services for students.
“We do need SROs, but we also need counselors,” one Spanish-speaking parent said in the report. “We have a lot of foster youth in our schools, and we need counselors to help them. Yes, we have bad kids, but the police scaring them is not helping them. We should help them. Yes, we need security, but we also need counselors. It’s a thin line between the SRO being there to help or to hurt.”