Tri-Valley youth recently led a virtual community forum to discuss police presence on local school campuses and the future role of school resource officers (SROs).
The evening conversation on July 22 was organized by members of Genesis of the Tri-Valley, a community group focused on impacting structural racism through issue-based campaigns. They aim to end the school-to-prison pipeline, put a stop to youth incarceration completely and find alternate methods for when a student is having a mental health crisis.
"I don't believe there has ever been an assessment or evaluation of the school resource officer program since it began back in 2002, so there aren't any specifics on Pleasanton's program," Oscar Lopez, interim director of the Education Advocacy Clinic, said during the forum. "The data from the Department of Justice I have reviewed has indicated that school resource officers actually do not make schools safer. There is no correlation at all between SRO programs and safety."
One of the main concerns with the SRO program is the limited training that officers get, according to Lopez.
"The California state does provide for 40 hours of training for any school resource officers at K-12 schools, however there isn't really a significant mental health component to it," he said.
Amador Valley High School students Vaneesha Dave, Holly Fletcher and Nadia Rehman, Amador alumnus Grace Chen and Dublin High student Megha Suresh presented and managed the forum.
Pleasanton Unified School District trustees Steve Maher and Kelly Mokashi, as well as Pleasanton City Councilmember Valerie Arkin, attended the online forum that lasted a little over an hour. There did not appear to by any Pleasanton Police Department representatives in attendance.
Jodie Geddes, the human services manager at Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, spoke about how restorative justice can play a big role in helping students feel safe and trust the people around them in times of crisis.
"Aside from increased trust, I think a lot about the disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline, when we look at data around suspension and expulsion and we begin to look at what the core of the issue is or even when our young people might get arrested in a moment of crisis without calling the therapist. They often engage with so many people along their path before their needs are actually met," Geddes said.
Geddes called on her experience of creating proper wellness programs outside of Pleasanton to explain how using restorative justice can transform circumstances that students are in. She used the phrase "a culture of healing, not harming" to illustrate her point.
"Really creating a wellness system that is holistic, that focuses on wellness and safety, where young people, their parents, and their community members are also a part of the conversation so then we engage in a process that's not about 'doing to' but 'being with,'" Geddes said. "I've seen restorative justice being transformative in situations that were really escalating, and we were able to deal with this because we've already created a culture of healing in the community."
After the speakers, all participants split up into breakout rooms to discuss their thoughts on the subject of the SRO program. In breakout room 12, Laurie Bennett, a frequent participant in public Genesis events, was among those to share her thoughts on the matter.
"It's not new that kids are having mental health issues, so it's surprising and sad that the school district hasn't been able to put more form around helping kids. With this last year, coming back is going to be very challenging and it would really be so great for Pleasanton to have a better way of being able to handle crisis," Bennett said.
Genesis youth hope for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between city officials, the school district and police on the SRO program as well as creating a dialogue about involuntary hold orders for students struggling with mental health and when police SROs should be involved.
Maher, Mokashi and Arkin interacted with Genesis youth on the subject of an MOU and future dialogues on the subject. They said they didn't want to make any definitive statements due to the Brown Act, but agreed that immediate changes must be implemented to the SRO program.
"It's certainly long overdue that we haven't discussed the SRO program and now we're trying to set things straight and have an MOU and qualify what we expect and what students and parents can expect, and we're moving forward. I'm looking forward to (the MOU) being completed by the end of September, I'm hoping," Maher said.