California schools chief: Officers needed in some schools but they need to be trained in bias

The head of California schools said Wednesday his office is working to re-imagine the role of police officers at the state’s 10,000 public schools but that some schools would still need officers on campus to protect students’ safety.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said the officers would be needed to protect students from dangers, including school shootings or bomb threats but officers would no longer be called upon to discipline misbehaving students.

“As a former school board member, I spent four years working very closely with school resource officers,” Thurmond said. “But I’ve already seen data that shows when there’s police on campus, this results in more suspensions and arrests, particularly for African American students and other students of color.”

Thurmond said schools that still need a police presence would get officers who choose to be there and who have been trained on implicit bias. He said officers won’t be assigned to campuses.

He said his office has convened a task force that includes legislators, researchers, law enforcement officials and advocacy groups that will look at how to address security issues at public schools.

Thurmond’s announcement came a day after the San Francisco Board of Education voted to cut ties with city police as protests against police brutality continue across the country.

Board commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to end an agreement with the San Francisco Police Department involving 12 armed police officers assigned to respond to calls at schools.

The arrangement also included a district payment of $46,000 to help cover the cost of a police liaison, who oversaw a program that provided specialized training to the 12 officers.

Schools throughout the nation are grappling with how to address demands to get police officers out of schools amid protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes.

The Oakland Unified School District Board was expected to vote Wednesday on whether to eliminate its police department, which has a budget of $6 million a year and a force of 10 sworn officer and 50 unarmed campus security guards. It is one of 19 school districts in California with its own police department.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation, rejected a proposal to defund campus police.

The board of United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful teachers union, recently voted to call for defunding the school police department and using $63 million of its $70 million budget for counseling and other student services.

However, some board members said they wouldn’t want to defund police unless there was another plan for guaranteeing the safety of the district’s 735,000 students.