Agreement between SFUSD and SFPD sets guidelines for officers in schools, but without the binding language that reformers sought
Historic new protections are now in place for children facing police action in the San Francisco Unified School District.
Reforms include having a parent present when police question a child, tracking police presence in schools, and using a more lenient approach than simply dragging kids off to the police station or juvenile hall. All of these may be strengthened by a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the SFUSD and SFPD.
The MOU, passed by the Board of Education at its Feb. 25 meeting, places new restraints on police officers when they come into schools, with specific outlines for when schools should call police, board President Sandra Lee Fewer told the Guardian.
"It's about changing student behavior, versus punishment," she said. The agreement dovetails with the district's new restorative practices initiative aimed to decrease reliance on suspensions to correct behavioral problems (see "Suspending judgment," 12/3/13).
All sides say the MOU is strong, but one section was weakened shortly before it was voted on. In the final hour before the MOU was brought before the Board of Education, the police revised the language of the agreement.
One important word was changed in a section describing how police are to respond to student crime on school grounds: a "shall" became a "should." Critics say that change transforms the contract from a legally binding agreement signed in goodwill to a mere suggestion of cooperation from the police.
"To a civilian, those are everyday words. To a police officer, they're the difference between always and never," Police Chief Greg Suhr told the Guardian.
At a Jan. 14 Board of Education meeting, members of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth told the board that this contract was no mere suggestion: It is vital to the safety of children.
Kevine Boggess of Coleman Advocates worked on the agreement for over two years, explaining to the board why "shall" was so important: "We feel like this is something that's necessary for this document to really stand true, to make sure students are treated with respect and not introduced to the criminal justice system."
Boggess said cops need stringent rules. But to see why those rules are necessary, we need to revisit a dark day in San Francisco history, when police discretion turned a school brawl into a riot.
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To those who remember, that day in 2002 is known as 10/11. Board of Education member Kim-Shree Maufus remembers that day well.
Maufus was sitting at work when her friend, a teacher, emailed her alarming news: Maufus' daughter was in danger. She was a sophomore at Thurgood Marshall High School, and the entire school was under attack.
Barriers blockaded the streets around Thurgood Marshall and helicopters swarmed the skies. At least 100 armored officers stormed the school, weapons at the ready.
"They were beating them. When my daughter got on the phone, I couldn't understand her. It wasn't English. Later, I understood it was a nervous breakdown," Maufus told the Guardian.
The book Lockdown High recounted the incident in which Maufus' daughter and dozens of other students, as well as teacher Anthony Peebles, were batoned by police and injured.
The San Francisco Bay View's article on the incident quoted a student who saw the violence escalate: "'We were coming out of the office as the fight was going on, and an officer took his gun out at one of the students and told him, 'Don't make me use this,' said Ely Guolio, a student. 'I was shocked.'"
The police allege they responded to a riot, and although four students and a teacher were arrested, all charges were later dropped, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report from 2003.