In the face of harsh school community criticism over an agreement placing law enforcement on campuses, South San Francisco Unified School District officials signaled they favored amending — not ending — the school liaison office program.
The district Board of Trustees discussed Thursday, Jan. 21, the arrangement rotating South San Francisco Police Department officers between school sites which has come under fire recently from residents and students alike.
No decision was made at the meeting, but school board members supported further researching the police relationship with hopes that the additional information will give way to an improved school liaison officer program.
Trustee Pat Murray recommended “building the relationship rather than throwing it out,” but needed more testimonials from students and information before making specific recommendations on ways to fix the program.
Trustee Daina Lujan concurred, suggesting officials host another study session featuring more data and perhaps examples of signed agreements between police and other school systems which South San Francisco officials can use as a model.
The requests for more information came in the wake of presentations from students, plus a school community survey and a focus group session facilitated by a consultancy agency offering recommendations on ways to improve the program.
Officials though claimed that material was inadequate, noting the survey captured a small segment of the school community and the focus group only featured about 25 students. Looking ahead, they hoped a more diverse and representative group of students and parents could be reached through an aggressive outreach campaign.
Opponents of the program decried the requests for more data, claiming officials have all the information they need to justify immediate termination.
“The people here tonight speaking are all saying the same thing — get SROs off campus,” said Andrea Sims, a former district student who pushed with other community members and students to end the program.
Sims’ perspective aligned with Change SSF, a progressive activist group advocating for ending the program which they claim is used by the police department to sustain the school-to-prison pipeline. Police contend otherwise, claiming the program fosters strong bonds between the department and school community.
South San Francisco High School student Brenda Gonzalez shared her belief that the program should end too.
“There should not be any cops on our campus except for an emergency, when their specific skill set is needed,” she said.
The meeting ultimately featured dozens of comments by residents who passionately called to remove officers from campuses, claiming the liaison officer program has led to years of police abusing communities of color.
Following the concerns raised by students and program critics, Trustee John Baker said he felt compelled to consider breaking off the relationship — in part due to the testimony shared by those who feel oppressed and scared by the presence of officers.
“No student should be afraid on our campuses, especially not by someone we invite,” he said.
But he measured his criticism of the existing program against a hope that a memorandum of understanding signed by both parties would clarify expectations and yield improved outcomes.
“If we are to continue this relationship in any form, there needs to be rules,” said Baker.
Board Vice President Mina Richardson was particularly critical of the program, claiming that it was unfairly constructed to focus on only a few schools.
“I don’t think this program has been equitable from the get, and that’s the problem,” she said.
Ultimately, officials concurred the issue deserves further analysis and agreed to continue discussing it in a future session. For her part, Lujan expressed some hope that the examination could lead to the district developing an equity policy which would comprehensively address the enforcement issues raised, and a slew of other initiatives.
“It is going to be hard work,” she said.