Fremont Unified School District Board votes to discontinue school resource officer program

The vote followed a recommendation from a special task force that found a need for better mental health support and restorative justice programs.

Amanda del Castillo Image
Friday, November 13, 2020
Task force recommends Fremont schools be police-free
In the East Bay, the fate of Fremont Unified School District's School Resource Officer program is in the hands of the school board.

FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- There will soon be no more police officers on Fremont Unified School District campuses. Just after midnight, the school board voted three to two to discontinue its school resource officer program.

The vote followed a recommendation from a special task force that found a need for better mental health support and restorative justice programs.

A 69-page SRO Review Task Force Report published in late October, identified the following:

  • Following Statewide and National trends, the FUSD SRO program disproportionately impacts Hispanic/Latinx students, Black students, Filipino students and students with special needs. From 2015-2020, the percent of Hispanic/Latinx and Black students arrested was up to 10 times their enrollment percent, and the percent of referrals to law enforcement for students with disabilities was up to 4 times their enrollment percent.
  • FUSD collects no data on SRO interactions with students and does not have the ability to evaluate or remove any SROs (this power lies with the Fremont Police Department). The program does not have measurable, assessable goals or outcomes.
  • There have been countless instances of particularly egregious interactions between SROs and students, such as one time when an SRO handcuffed a student to a chair and another where an SRO placed a 5150 involuntary hold on a student against the recommendation of their trained mental health therapist.

Based on their findings, the Task Force recommended the school board instead invest in "increased mental health support, implementing restorative justice, and other proactive and preventative approaches as alternatives to law enforcement."

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"It wasn't tied to student outcomes," Antonio Birbeck-Herrera told ABC7 News. "There wasn't thorough assessment. The district doesn't have oversight over the program; that belongs to the police department. So, we just found a foundation of trust, but not assessment and verification."

Birbeck-Herrera is a task force member and FUSD parent. He said he's looked into the issue since 2018.

"In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, there was much more attention on this matter," Birbeck-Herrera shared.

"It's clear that the district needs to review and restructure its interactions with law enforcement," he continued. "There's currently not sufficient guidance or direction to site administrators. There's not enough data collected on these interactions, and so that needs to be revisited regardless of the decision that the board makes today."

Background information published to the school board's website explained, "The Fremont Police Department and Fremont Unified School District have had a partnership since 1998. The partnership was launched through implementing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program and has evolved to a collaborative, focused effort to ensure the highest level of safety for students, staff, and our community."

RELATED: San Francisco school board approves eliminating SFPD officers at public schools

As it stands, a SRO is assigned to each of the six high schools and serves all schools and offices throughout the district.

"We hire the best people, train them to exceptional levels and hold ourselves and one another accountable to the highest standards of behavior and professionalism," Fremont Police Chief Kimberly Petersen said in a video posted to YouTube. "The sanctity of life is at the center of everything we do, and for us, the School Resource Program is part of those values."

The video concluded, "We believe that having a specially trained, self-selected person who wants to be on the campus, who wants to build those relationships, who understands the school culture, provides a much higher level of service to the staff, to the students."

At Thursday's board meeting, both the Task Force and Chief Petersen presented their arguments.

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Chief Petersen emphasized the decision shouldn't be one or the other. Instead, she maintained campuses and kids need both support and safety.

"They want you to choose clinicians instead of police. It's really not an 'either, or' proposition," she said. "Our schools and our children need both safety and they need mental health support. But safety has to be the number one priority, always."

She questioned, "What good would that clinician be when you have a big fight break out? Or when the principal finds a gun on a student?"

Chief Petersen urged the school board to slow down and take the appropriate time to make the critical decision.

RELATED: State Superintendent Tony Thurmond discusses impact of police on school campuses

Additionally, Fremont Mayor Lily Mei wrote the board president, requesting to schedule a special Joint City Council/FUSD Board meeting.

She wrote:

"In an effort to better serve the Fremont community, the Fremont City Council and FUSD Trustees have had a long-standing history and practice of collaborating on important issues that impact the city's youth and families. Our partnership has greatly benefited our community, and it's urgent that we come together to discuss the SRO program prior to any formal action being taken. Our formal joint meeting process is in place for the purpose of discussing high level issues that mutually affect our organizations and we would like the opportunity to share and discuss recent findings on the program."

The Fremont Police Department and the school district have had the partnership since 1998.

ABC7 News reached out to Fremont Mayor Lily Mei and the Fremont Police Department for comment, but did not hear back by Thursday's board meeting.