Just four months ago, community activists celebrated a landmark decision in the Pomona Unified School District: The Board of Education cut funding for school police, removed officers from high schools, and recruited proctors trained to ease tensions. But due in part to the recent shooting near the campus, the board changed course and brought back the police, stating that the safety of the students was of the utmost importance.
A unanimous vote at a school council meeting on October 27 was passed after a 12-year-old boy was injured by broken glass and debris in a shooting near Pomona High School. Activist pressure that led the board to cut police funding and rethink school safety in June has given way to renewed pressure from those who believe the Pomona Police Department is critical to school safety.
“An incident like this prompts us as leaders to look into our practice and our student and staff care protocols for mental health, conflict management, emergency management, communications and security,” Supt said. – said Richard Martinez during the October 20 meeting after the shooting.
The Pomona School Council is not alone in worrying about school safety and law enforcement policies that have emerged following nationwide protests over the killing of black police officers and evidence that police disproportionately target black and Hispanic students. The Fremont Unified School District voted last November to end its school counselor program, only to restore the program by May.
In Los Angeles, the sharply divided school board voted 4-3 in June 2020 to cut $ 25 million from its department’s $ 70 million budget (a 36% cut), and also removed one officer stationed on each high school campus. … Last month, two Los Angeles school board members, citing security concerns, tried to change their minds and give principals the right to hire police for their campuses. The move was rejected by a majority of the council, which has firmly sided with the activists, who say the presence of police on campus traumatizes students, especially black students, and leads to them being treated as suspects.
“While some students believe campuses will be somewhat safer than they used to be, others also fear the dangers. [school resource officers] can bring, ”said Village Academy High School student Juliana Naag at a student council meeting on October 20 in Pomona. “The arrival of armed policemen not only classifies students as criminals, but also endangers our youth and Pomona students.”
Pomona’s decision came as school administrators and teachers across California and the country are expressing concerns about tensions, fights and misbehavior among some students, possibly related to a tight personal school schedule after months of isolation and growing problems with mental health.
Members of the Pomona Gente Organizada, which led a four-year campaign to remove police from their schools, said they were “incredibly disappointed” with the decision and disappointed with the voting time, which they said did not allow an adequate vote. community input. The Pomona School District has no power of its own, but is under contract with the city police department.
“This is clearly a controversial issue,” said Jesús Sanchez, co-founder of Gente Organizada. “But when you have a school district that just can’t engage in dialogue and debate … it doesn’t help anyone.”
Sanchez pointed to a 2021 report issued by the group, which found that over 22% of young people arrested in Pomona are black, despite only 5.6% of Pomona’s population, and that the vast majority of all arrested the female youth were black and Latin. According to Ed-Data, the district serves about 23,000 students, over 85% of whom are Hispanic or Latino.
“Regardless of what anyone says, the weight of the study is that the police harm children at school,” one speaker, Nicole Gon Ochi, said at a recent meeting.
Pomona Police spokeswoman Ali Mejia said the department values its partnership with the school district and students, and that “the safety and well-being of students in Pomona is always our first concern”.
Asked about the statistics in the report, Mejia said the police department is working with community groups to tackle Pomona’s perennial problems with prostitution and human trafficking, and that many of those arrested reflect those crimes.
The council decision, pending city council approval later this month, will re-establish a public school staff program to “improve safe and positive learning environments” in district schools by reinstating two full-time staff at a district high school. according to county records, at an annual cost per employee of about $ 195,000.
Oliver Unaka, the county’s chief of public affairs, said leaders began “rethinking what positive engagement with law enforcement might look like” back in 2019, including a focus on restorative justice practice, mental health and social support. But he also said that the decision not to re-contract with local law enforcement was based in part on the fact that the students were not on campus due to the pandemic.
“The unprecedented health emergency presented by COVID-19, while demanding free school spaces, also provided the district with an opportunity to rethink and rethink how students, families and staff can interact with first responders in a post-pandemic social environment. environment, ”said Unaka.
The decision to rely on observers was previously made during the outbreak of the delta pandemic – and only shortly after vaccines became available to people 12 and older – when administrators did not yet know how many students would return to campus, Unaca said.
Supt. Martinez did not mention the Delta option or school closings when discussing the reasons for the initial decision to end funding in an interview with The Times this summer. At the time, he described the decision as a result of community concerns and calls for a restorative justice approach to school safety.
Several students outside Pomona High School spoke out in favor of increased security on Wednesday morning.
“After this incident, we will feel safer,” said 17-year-old Ashley Flores, an older sister, referring to the shooting. “It happened after school, but it still bothered me.”
Adan Sanchez, a 16-year-old junior, said: “This is a great need. … It’s always better for me. You don’t come to school just to be afraid to come to school, ”he said.
Neither he nor any of his friends have been discriminated against by the police, Sanchez said, adding, “I feel safer, and not just me – my friends too.”
One parent, who declined to give his name, said the student council decision was a relief for her, and that she even considered taking her sophomore son out of the district after the previous move to remove police from campus.
Pomona’s move also follows two recent high-profile cases involving excessive use of force by school security officials. In one, a Lancaster high school student claimed that she was knocked to the ground by a school deputy after she refused to give him her phone. Student, 16-year-old MiKayla Robinson, has filed lawsuits against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and her school district.
Another case involves the murder of 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez by a Long Beach School security officer in September. The officer, Eddie F. Gonzalez, fired at the moving car that Rodriguez was in and hit her in the head. He is now charged with murder.
Mejia, a spokeswoman for the police department, said all Pomona police officers have recently completed a two-day de-escalation course on the use of force and will receive training on hidden bias. School counselors will receive additional training, including hidden bias, restorative justice techniques, procedural justice, trauma-based techniques, diversity, and de-escalation.
Board member Adrienne Conigard-McLean said at the October 20 meeting that she hopes to reach a “sweet spot” so that the district can keep students safe without “treating them like they are in a containment center.”
She also strongly encouraged school counselors to receive training in crisis intervention and management skills, and said the board of directors may consider changing officers to be different so they are not seen as a police presence.
Some in the community were not satisfied with these steps. At the Gente Organizado youth center in downtown Pomona on Wednesday, director Arlene Yaz Alonso said she hoped the district authorities would consider alternatives, including mental health resources on each Pomona campus.
“The fact that you are in shape is not scary. The fact that you have a badge is not scary, – said Alonso. “What’s scary is the story of the police themselves.”
Times staff columnist Melissa Gomez contributed to this report.