As SF Schools Cut Ties With Police, State Education Chief Says Officers Still Needed in Some Schools

San Francisco Unified School District's Board of Education voted unanimously on June 23, 2020 to declare the city's public schools to be police-free. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The head of California schools said Wednesday his office is working to re-imagine the role of police officers at the state’s 10,000 public schools but that some schools would still need officers on campus to protect students' safety.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said the officers would be needed to protect students from dangers, including school shootings or bomb threats, but officers would no longer be called upon to discipline misbehaving students.

“As a former school board member, I spent four years working very closely with school resource officers,” Thurmond said. “But I’ve already seen data that shows when there’s police on campus, this results in more suspensions and arrests, particularly for African American students and other students of color.”

Thurmond's announcement came a day after the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Board of Education voted to cut ties with city police as protests against police brutality continue across the country.

The SFUSD board voted unanimously Tuesday to end an agreement with the San Francisco Police Department involving 12 armed police officers assigned to respond to calls at schools.

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The resolution deems schools as sanctuary spaces from law enforcement and directs staff and schools Superintendent Vincent Matthews to not cooperate or facilitate in the criminalization of a student, their family member or staff on campus by state, federal and local law enforcement agencies. Additionally, armed officers won't be allowed on school grounds.

The board's resolution also calls for $46,000 in school district funds previously used to pay law enforcement to be reallocated toward student support services.

In response to the board's vote, San Francisco Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said in an email, "The department has not made any decisions regarding the [school resource officer] program. We look forward to having conversations with Superintendent Matthews regarding how we implement a thoughtful transition."

Thurmond said schools that still need a police presence would get officers who choose to be there and who have been trained on implicit bias. He said officers won't be assigned to campuses.

He said his office has convened a task force that includes legislators, researchers, law enforcement officials and advocacy groups that will look at how to address security issues at public schools.

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Schools throughout the nation are grappling with how to address demands to get police officers out of schools amid protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes.

The Oakland Unified School District Board is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to eliminate its police department, which has an annual budget of $6 million and a force of 10 sworn officers and 50 unarmed campus security guards. It is one of 19 school districts in California with its own police department.

The board of United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful teachers union, recently voted to call for defunding the school police department and using $63 million of its $70 million budget for counseling and other student services.

But on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest in the nation, rejected a proposal to defund campus police. Some district board members said they wouldn’t want to defund police unless there was another plan for guaranteeing the safety of the district's 735,000 students.

Additional reporting contributed by Bay City News.