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San Francisco Schools Pass Agreement to Reduce Arrests on Campus and Racial Gap in Policing Data

San Francisco Schools Pass Agreement to Reduce Arrests on Campus and Racial Gap in Policing Data

There’s positive news from San Francisco about the role of police on campus. Community groups have come together to promote a new agreement between San Francisco police and schools that will reduce arrests on campus and the troubling racial gap that happens as a result.

UPDATE: The San Francisco Unified School District approved the final agreement with the San Francisco Police Department at a board meeting on February 26, 2014. Click here to download and read the MOU: [download id=”2851″]

San Francisco students working with Coleman Advocates and other groups have pushed for an agreement to reduce school arrests.

San Francisco students working with Coleman Advocates and other groups have pushed for an agreement to reduce school arrests.

Responding to concern from parents and community members that unnecessary police involvement pushes San Francisco students into the juvenile justice system and out of school each year, San Francisco Unified School District School Board members approved an agreement on January 14 that will transform the relationship between police and the school community when it is signed by the San Francisco Police Department.

After years of work to develop the new SFPD/SFUSD MOU, the board’s vote was a big step forward. The board approved the MOU with amendments to further strengthen it and to restore a key provision that was removed by the Police Department’s legal counsel only a few hours before the board’s vote, without any input from community or the school district.

The MOU between the San Francisco Police Department and San Francisco Unified School District allows schools to request police involvement on campus to protect students and staff, to address criminal behavior by non-students, or where required by law. But it puts a strict limit on police involvement in student discipline that can and should be handled at school. The agreement also:

•    helps protect the privacy and dignity of students who are interviewed by school police as witnesses, victims, or potential offenders;
•    ensures that parents are contacted and can be present if a police officer is interviewing a student;
•    directs school administrators to handle all discipline-related problems at the school-site;
•    reiterates that disciplining students is a school, not police, responsibility;
•    sets up a system of graduated responses for police, starting with a warning, for low-level offenses, so that those can be handled with prevention and intervention and not a trip to juvenile court or jail; and
•    develops an oversight process for students and parents to provide feedback and address issues related to conduct of any school police or security on campus to ensure positive engagement.

Coleman Advocates, Public Counsel, the San Francisco Youth Commission, HOMEY (Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth), United Playaz, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, and CHALK (Communities in Harmony Advocating for Learning and Kids) have partnered throughout the effort, ensuring that MOU changes were informed by the experiences and perspectives of affected youth.

The groups called on SFPD Chief Greg Suhr to quickly sign the MOU with the board amendments that would ensure that the graduated response system is required and followed and not optional; “school resource officers” and other police interacting with students receive and participate in one free training from the District in restorative justice/practices each year; parents truly have reasonable time to get to the school and be present if their child is being questioned by police; and that the provision regarding arrests on campus is strong and clear that such arrests should only occur as a very last resort and only if absolutely necessary to avoid disruption of instruction at school and protect student privacy.

Research shows that a first-time arrest doubles the chances that a student will drop out of high school, and a first-time court appearance quadruples those chances.  According to records obtained in a public records request filed by Coleman Advocates and Public Counsel, more than 460 students were arrested on campus between 2010 and 2013, the vast majority for low-level and nonviolent offenses. In many cases, the police were called but a formal arrest was not made.

The data also exposes a troubling racial gap in arrests. African American young people were 39% of all students arrested on campus in the past three years, even though they are just 8% of San Francisco students. African American young people were 43% of all juvenile arrests by SFPD in the past three years.

SFPD records show arrested students as young as ages 8-12, with arrests spiking at age 13. Since 2010, 60 students ages 12 or younger have been arrested at school.

San Francisco police officers are also called in to address school discipline matters that do not involve threats to students or school staff or criminal behavior. Police have been called to intervene in discipline for SFUSD elementary school students as young as 5 years old.

“We’re putting the responsibility for student behavior back where it belongs, with educators, students and parents, not with police. When police get involved in school discipline, it sends all the wrong messages to students and makes it more likely they will fall behind, fail to graduate or get involved in the juvenile justice system.” -Karn Saetang, Director of Student Organizing at Coleman Advocates


“Students belong in school, not on a fast-track to the criminal justice system. The police and school leaders have committed to reduce arrests of students on campus, take measures to respect the dignity of students, and develop effective alternatives that address student behavior in school, not in court. Sharing data with the public about school arrests and police involvement on campus will protect students’ civil rights and build trust between students and police and make our schools safer and our community safer.” – Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director at Public Counsel

Lionel Hill, who is raising his nephew, recalls his shock when he learned that police had been called for his nephew’s disruptive classroom behavior:  “I was actually on campus for a Black History Month event when the police were called on my nephew, but I only found out about it when I got a phone call later. He was having problems adjusting to being in school, away from home and his family. How is calling in an armed uniformed police officer to deal with a 5-year-old going to do anything other than further traumatize him?”

The American Psychological Association, the Council of State of Governments, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have all found that extreme discipline, including arrests, predicts grade retention, school dropout, and future involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Community groups that had led the call for change and participated in drafting and developing the MOU applauded the new agreement.

The agreement also helps ensure regular communication with the community about what is happening with police on campuses through quarterly reports from SFPD and SFUSD to the school board that include demographic data about students involved with police on campus, the number of times SFPD officers were called to schools and arrests made, efforts to use alternatives such as a referral to mental health, wellness centers, and other resource facilities, instead of arrest or citation and efforts to reduce racially disproportionate contact with police and the juvenile justice system and reduce the rate of school-based arrests and citations while maintaining a safe school climate.

When approved, the agreement will help keep more students out of the school-to-prison pipeline and stand as a model for how schools and police departments can work together to improve school climate while reducing student arrests, police contact and citations.

Founded in 1975, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth is a member-led, multi-racial community organization working to create a city of hope, justice, and opportunity for all children and families in San Francisco.

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm with a 40-year history of fighting for the rights of students, children, families, and others in need of justice.