SCUSD Is Not Reimagining Safety

Last August, the Sacramento Unified School District (SCUSD) board members voted 6 to 1 to renew a contract with the Sacramento Police Department, though the board said back in June it would not renew the contract.  

The latest contract calls for a reduction of school resources officers (SROs), from 11 to 3, to patrol 70 campuses in the district, and the hiring of a Police Sergeant to work with the new Director of Schools Safety. The new contract is a part of the district’s “Reimagine School Safety” plan.

The reduction in the number of SROs is in response to a controversial debate and consistent outcry of students and parents who rightly see SROs as doing more harm than good. The contract results in school administrators relying on SROs to respond to disciplinary issues and school conflicts that should not be their responsibility, but should remain the responsibility of administrators and school security guards. 

In 2015/16 there were 158 school related arrests. In that same time period, Black students only represented 15% of the student enrollment, but they represented 37% of all referrals to law enforcement, and 37% of all school related arrests. Statistics show that Black and Brown students are disproportionately targeted and charged by law enforcement. 

Black students only represented 15% of the student enrollment, but they represented 37% of all referrals to law enforcement, and 37% of all school related arrests. Statistics show that Black and Brown students are disproportionately targeted and charged by law enforcement. 



As Alma López, Statewide Coordinator for Brown Issues, and former Parent Advisor at Luther Burbank High School pointed out, “Safety Resource Officers on school campuses are there to enforce criminal laws; every violation of a school rule can be considered a criminal act if viewed from a police lens” 

Reimagining School Safety Plan

A month before the SCUSD board decided to renew the contract, a restorative justice coalition of community groups, including Brown Issues, Black Parallel School Board, Blacks Making a Difference, Hmong Innovating Politics, Sacramento ACT, and Self Awareness & Recovery, convened a community forum and called for the board to not renew the contract. Participants in the forum recommended alternatives to SROs on school campuses. Recommendations for the $1.5 million budget include hiring more school counselors and psychologists, and implementing and strengthening restorative justice and PBIS programs.

To their credit, a few SCUSD board members attended the community forum to listen to the concerns of the community, but the district’s committee that developed the safety plan did not formally meet with members of the coalition to get their input.

The Roles of Administrator and Law Enforcement 

When the committee introduced the plan to board members, their presentation highlighted examples of appropriate roles for school administrators and law enforcement. 

The roles of site administrators, the committee listed, includes addressing issues of student insubordination and defiance, disorderly conduct, failure to participate in class, possession of alcohol and marijuana, abuse and other forms of harassment that do not fall under any penal code. 

The listed roles of law enforcement include responding to calls for dealing with assault and battery, firearm violations, supervision of athletic and extracurricular activities, intruders on campus, and investigation of safety and welfare checks. Such criminal activity should not require a separate district contract for hiring SROs, because local law enforcement are already being paid to respond to criminal activity.   

Let’s Reimagine Safety  

One SCUSD board member pointed out that the district Reimagine School Safety plan doesn’t really address reimagining safety. She’s correct. Reimagining safety would first off not include the need for SROs, but it would emphasize the development of restorative justice and PBIS programs and practices. 

Secondly, the District’s plan would promote discipline with dignity, and would include cooperative learning, equitable classroom management systems, better training of all staff, and cooperative development of school safety plans. 

 Safety Resource Officers on school campuses are there to enforce criminal laws; every violation of a school rule can be considered a criminal act if viewed from a police lens.  —Alma López



Thirdly, a safety plan would require the District to produce semi-annual data on interactions (number of referrals and arrests, etc) with law enforcement so that parents, students, administrators can work together to resolve conflicts. 

The reliance on SROs and harsh discipline and arrests serve to especially criminalize Black and Brown students. The constant presence of law enforcement in and around schools undermines the role of administrators, parents, students and communities to exercise agency in addressing disciplinary problems and building positive and healthy school climates. 

Reimagining safety means schools should turn away from outdated, punitive practices that hurt students and families, and promote working together to build healthy schools where all students are respected and given opportunities and support to grow and learn.

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Why CVMB Backs Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS)

Members of the Central Valley Movement Building, a coalition that works with parents and education activists in regions of the Central Valley in California, are dismayed and concerned about the reported lack of confidence that Visalia Unified School District has in using Positive Behavior Intervention and Suports as a way to address disciplinary related issues in the classroom and schools.

The recently published article, the Visalia Times, titled “VUSD trustee: PBIS is broken, not worth fixing. Is he right?” raises more questions than it answers. Among the questions we have include:

  • What are parents and students saying about the reported incidents of misbehavior in schools?
  • What type of resources and supports (Third Tier) have schools been using to help students who are the most disruptive?
  • And how have schools and teachers tried to reach out to parents and invite them to be partners in creating a positive school climate?

We are aware that many teachers are calling for using school suspensions and expulsions as a form of behavior management, but research shows that these punitive policies and practices disproportionally impact Black and Brown students, and it means that the more time students miss school for whatever reason, the more likely those students will have difficulty graduating, and many will end up in juvenile detention centers or jails.

research shows that these punitive policies and practices disproportionally impact Black and Brown students, and it means that the more time students miss school for whatever reason, more likely those students will have difficulty graduating, and many will end up in juvenile detention centers or jails.

PBIS Properly Implemented

If PBIS is properly implemented it results in all students developing and learning social, emotional, and behavioral competence, which supports their academic engagement. Additionally, all educators develop positive, predictable, and safe environments that promote strong interpersonal relationships with students through teaching, modeling, and encouragement.

PBIS properly implemented also results in:

  • Reductions in major disciplinary infractions, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse
  • Reductions in aggressive behavior and improvements in emotional regulation.
  • Improvements in academic engagement and achievement
  • Improvements in perceptions of organizational health and school safety
  • Reductions in teacher and student reported bullying behavior and victimization
  • Improvements in perceptions of school climate
  • Reductions in teacher turnover

We think Visalia USD should review its PBIS programs, and actively partner with parents and community groups address issues of bullying, problems with classroom management, and other various complaints.

Examples of PBIS Resources

  • an on-site mental health clinic
  • art and music classes to help students express themselves
  • on-call support for teachers
  • ongoing professional training for teachers
  • behavior circles
  • student referrals to a psychologist or social worker
  • work and recreational supports for students
  • enrollment in a program teaching prosocial behavior or anger management participation in a restorative justice program
  • after-school programs that address special behavior issues or expose students to positive activities and behaviors
  • participation in an on-site or community-based restorative justice program

Our Recommendation

We think Visalia USD should review its PBIS programs, and actively partner with parents and community groups address issues of bullying, problems with classroom management, and other various complaints. No single solution will fix the problem.