On November 12, 2020, the Board of Education voted 3-2 to end the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in efforts to “expand effective, safe, and supporting learning environments,” as outlined in a January 20 board meeting presentation. Back in November, the Board’s goals were to provide more mental health support to students and reevaluate student interactions with on-campus law enforcement.
Due to racial inequities, mental health issues, and financial prioritization that FUSD was facing in November, the Board made the decision to remove the SRO program. Especially whilst in a pandemic, FUSD felt that spending extra money on a program with arbitrary policies were “infringements with life-altering implications,” as stated by the SRO Review Task Force. The SRO program costs a total of $2.5 million dollars — FUSD directly paid $830,000 as of 2020, and the City of Fremont paid for the rest of the program.
Since the November vote, two new members have joined the Board, Vivek Prasad and Yajing Zhang, who replaced former Board members Michele Berke and Ann Crosbie. The Board decided to revisit their decision due to the lack of planning for a replacement program and pushback from some Fremont community members, especially parents of FUSD students. On January 20, 2021, the Board of Education voted 4-1, with only FUSD Board Vice President Dianne Jones voting against restoring the SRO program on FUSD campuses with no funding from FUSD. Dianne Jones was also a part of the November 12 Board meeting, where she preceded to vote against the SRO program. “During the November meeting, when the board voted to terminate the program, I cited the data that showed 5 years of disproportionate arrest data to protected classes of students as a reason to terminate the program. The Task Force also identified alternatives to the SRO program for providing some of the services currently provided by SROs. This information did not change, and no new data was presented in January, so I had no cause to change my position,” said Jones.
Regarding a new member’s vote to reinstate the program, FUSD School Board Trustee Vivek Prasad said he wanted to, “show that we will not terminate the program without giving them [SROs] a chance to respond to the SRO taskforce findings and reanalyze the SRO program with us [board members], because campus safety is of utmost importance. Their program has been successful in the past, and I see the value of what they bring.”
“More concerning is that they didn’t discuss the changes they would make to avoid recreating the serious deficiencies identified with the previous program,” Class of 2013 MSJ alumna Amaya Wooding said. Going forward, FUSD will work with the Fremont Police Department to draft a line of action, also known as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in order to share relevant information and discuss mutual concerns in meetings.
Prasad encourages FUSD to prioritize school reopenings rather than planning for the program. He said, “There are a lot of students struggling immensely right now, and for their benefit, we want to make sure we reopen schools sooner than later … Further steps for the [SRO] program are somewhat irrelevant in the context of more pressing issues.”
Some community members are disappointed with FUSD’s decision. GenUp Executive Director and Founder Senior Alvin Lee expressed his disapproval for the program amid FUSD’s current budget cut plans. “Alameda County Office of Education has instructed FUSD to make $17 million of cuts in two years. There are custodians’ salaries on the line and increasing class sizes that are near 40 students. They’ll probably have to cut AP classes, too. It’s so fiscally strained, and yet, the board is still adamant on preserving the SRO program in a year where we have not even returned to school,” said Lee.
Likewise, Class of 2019 MSJ alumna Priya Talreja, who helped write the Task Force report, conducted extensive research on restorative justice, and served on the Mental Health and Campus Safety sub-task forces, is disheartened to see the Board ignoring student voices. “It’s frightening to see our Board of Education trustees and management refuse to acknowledge the disproportionality in student arrests. Furthermore, it’s irresponsible to prioritize cops over custodians, nurses, and educators during a global pandemic,” said Talreja.