Press ReleasesApril 24, 2015
Broad Coalition Calls on School Board to Invest in Violence Prevention and Intervention, Not More Police on Campuses
OAKLAND - A broad coalition of community members, students, parents and teachers Wednesday night called on members of the Oakland Unified School Board to expand violence intervention and prevention strategies that help students achieve educational success and to place a three-year cap on the district's spending on campus police.
The coalition, which includes the Black Organizing Project (BOP), Public Counsel, Dignity in Schools-Bay Area, Oakland Education Association, and Californians for Justice, attended the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board meeting in support of policy changes to make OUSD schools safer and stronger. The policy changes supported by the coalition include creation of a Safe and Strong Schools Task Force, expansion of successful programs like the African American Manhood Development program and Restorative Justice to all schools with a $2.3 million additional investment for these specific prevention and intervention strategies in the next fiscal year, and an end to extreme discipline practices such as suspensions for "disruption and willful defiance." While several Board Members and the Superintendent expressed support for these reforms, the Superintendent, Board Director Jumoke Hinton Hodge and Board President James Harris stated that they were unwilling to cap the number of sworn police officers paid for by the school district.
"The district has made some great steps in the right direction and we applaud them for that. However, that does not mean you stop walking," said Jasmine Jones, Lead Organizer for BOP, the organization leading the effort to put the Safe and Strong Schools Policy in place. "It is a shame that the Board and the Superintendent are failing to hear the community's strong request to hold off on further investments in police, which is a short-term strategy, and instead take the time and resources needed to invest in a long-term strategy. The board is forgetting its duty as elected officials to represent the community's voice."
Currently, the Oakland Unified School District spends more than $7.2 million per year on its own, internal school police department, including police officers and security guards. In comparison, the District spends approximately $2.5 million per year on programs specifically designed to prevent and reduce violence and resolve conflict in schools. This means that the District spends nearly three times as much on the police department as on violence prevention.
"In many Oakland communities our children and students encounter one to five police officers on any given day on their way home from school," said Beatriz Torres, a parent whose son is in first grade in OUSD. "This should not be the experience that our children should face in their schools, the place where they spend most of their time and where they come to learn and prepare to lead their community in the future and end the cycle of poverty that they live in."
"It seems like the Superintendent and the Board Directors aren't listening to us. We want to see more money spent on our education, not more police. From my own experience, it was a restorative justice coordinator that helped me get on track and stay out of trouble, not an armed police officer," said Dazahne Labbot, a student at McClymonds High School and a member of BOP. "If the district cares about my future they would listen to the recommendations that myself and my peers have worked hard to come up with."
The School Board will take a final vote at the next Board meeting May 6. Several of the policy changes that Board members are considering were developed in partnership between the Superintendent, district leadership and the coalition. They include the elimination of suspensions and involuntary transfers for "willful defiance and disruption" by July 1, 2016, an increase in data transparency and accountability, and creation of a Safe and Strong Schools Task Force to help guide the expansion and implementation of key prevention and intervention strategies, like the African American Manhood Development program and Restorative Justice. Separately, Board Member Rosie Torres put forth an oral motion to cap the number of police officers until the 2019-20 school year and ensure a minimum of $2.3 million dollars in additional funding for the key intervention and prevention strategies next year with increases in subsequent years to ensure full and high quality implementation.
"Despite a reduction in suspension and expulsions in schools and an increase in achievement for students where intervention and prevention strategies are in place, the school district's police department is still given a disproportionate emphasis in the school district's budget," said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director with Public Counsel. "To create a safer and stronger OUSD and a safer and stronger Oakland, the investment needs to be reversed. We need three times more on strategies that get to the root causes of conflict and help prevent violence from coming into our schools in the first place."
Public Counsel recently conducted polling of Oakland residents that shows that voters favor violence prevention and intervention over policing, they see the connection between restorative justice strategies on public school campuses and increasing safety in the community at large. Overwhelmingly, 71% of voters polled believe that OUSD should spend more on prevention and intervention strategies that keep students in school, on track and help address their mistakes and less on school police.
In fact, 91 percent of Oakland voters believe that if Oakland schools take a preventative approach to school violence that teaches kids positive behaviors and gets to the root causes of fights or conflicts before they become larger problems, that will improve the overall school climate and improve school safety.