“You see a steady rise of arrests on campuses,” said Laura Faer, the Public Counsel firm’s statewide education rights director. “A lot of that came after the Columbine [High School massacre] with an increase in police being stationed on campus.”
A memorandum of understanding between the Police Department and the San Francisco Unified School District aims to put a strict limit on law enforcement involvement in student discipline that can be handled by campus administrators. School board members today will consider adopting the agreement to reduce arrests on campus and close the racial gap in the arrests.
The effort grew out of a public-records request on San Francisco school arrests and referrals to law enforcement filed in April 2012 by Public Counsel and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.
According to the records obtained, 460 students were arrested at district schools from 2010 to 2013, the majority for nonviolent or low-level offenses. Black youths represented 39 percent of students arrested in the past three years, though they make up only 8 percent of San Francisco students.
Students arrested were as young as 8 years old and arrests spiked at age 13, according to Police Department data.
“Most incidents on campus should be dealt with by the school district and [there are] only rare instances in which [the Police Department’s] school resource officers should intervene,” said school board member Matt Haney, adding he will be “strongly supporting” the memorandum.
If adopted, the memorandum would remain in effect for five years.
Compared to a memorandum that expired in 2010, the new agreement “extends additional protections to students,” said Kevine Boggess, director of civic engagement for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.
Among added protections are increased privacy and dignity for students interviewed by police and ensuring parents can be present if an officer interviews a student. Also proposed is a system of graduated responses for police, starting with a warning for low-level offenses.
Research shows a first-time arrest doubles the chances that a student will drop out of high school, and a first-time court appearance quadruples the chances, the organizations pointed out.
The memorandum is in line with a resolution the school board has been considering to make suspensions a last resort, which also came out of the public-records request. Few schools in the state and nation have adopted such a memorandum.
“This would make San Francisco a model for sure,” Faer said.
Coleman Advocates parent volunteer Lionel Hill, 57, said his 5-year-old nephew was not scarred by the experience of having police address his tantrum behavior, but he remembers it.
“The school was using the police to do their job — to baby-sit and handle these issues that should have been handled in-house,” he said, “I could not fathom why they did it.”