Two weeks ago, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board voted unanimously not to renew the student resource deputy (SRD, also commonly referred to as a school resource officer- SRO) contract.
For over a decade and until June 2017, an SRD on the San Marcos campus was both provided and funded by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and Santa Barbara County. Following several events in the second semester of the 2017-2018 school year, the district agreed to fund an SRD on campus. Since March 2018, there has been a full-time one on campus causing conflict between students, parents, and community members.
For a while the topic of an SRD on campus was debated. Soon, a Student Coalition was formed and they started an instagram account (@cops.off.campus.sb), where an abundance of students could express their opinions and experiences with and about the campus’ SRD anonymously or not.
“The institution of police has had a very long history of being discriminatory towards many marginalized groups including POC and people in the LGBTQ+community,” said an active member of the Student Coalition, sophomore Noelle Cabrera. “I really want to stress that we could not have done any of this without the work of everyone before us, including the black students who made the demand to have SROs off campuses almost two years ago.”
Originally the renewal of the SRD contract was just a discussion item for the board meeting but President of the board, Kate Ford, made the motion to have it an action item.
During the board meeting on October 12th, the board had received a flood of emails and public comments from members of the Student Coalition as well, wishing to vote on the contract renewal that night. Many students and community members, including former alumni of San Marcos, San Marcos upcoming and current parents, and UCSB faculty members spoke for themselves and on the behalf of students that were not comfortable and afraid of speaking out to the board about SRDs on campus.
“I know it’s something that a lot of different people have opinions about but I just think as a student, there are so many different ways to re-imagine safety and create a secure environment for students that don’t involve police,” said sophomore Kavya Suresh who is part of the Student Coalition and attended the meeting. “As a child of immigrants, my entire life, police have been associated with fear. I never felt safer knowing that an armed officer was on campus, if anything I felt that school became more like a prison. I need to be in a place where my mental health and physical health are maintained and I don’t think that’s a place where there is a police officer patrolling the environment.”
In the Student Coalition’s effort to express their concerns, they collaborated with local organizations such as SURJ SB (Standing Up for Racial Justice) and members from Ethnic Studies Now SB. As the board meeting was coming up, they also met with district members multiple times and met once with the Sheriff’s office to negotiate terms of the SRD contract.
One option discussed, in regard to a new contract, was to restrict the SRD to the perimeter of campus only. However, more statements were made that convinced the board of their decision not to renew the contract.
“I value the intense concerns of students from the Ethnic Studies Club and the Cops Off Campus SB group as well as other students who feel unsafe with an SRD on campus,” said student representative on the board, SM junior Dawson Kelly. “I wish that there were more voices from all sides that spoke but that is the nature of board meetings.”
On October 25th another board meeting was held and there was criticism directed toward the board regarding their decision to remove SRDs from campus. Many community members were upset with the previous motion to vote on the SRD contract when it was listed as a discussion item versus an action item and felt they did not get appropriate notice, therefore did not have the equal opportunity to express their concerns with regard to renewing the contract.
Sheriff Brown spoke during the most recent meeting, expressing his disappointment.
“A school resource deputy is a specially selected and trained deputy assigned to a school as a resource for the students and school staff,” he said. “SRDs effectively diffuse situations ranging from fights, threats, self-harm and drug abuse on campus.”
Each deputy is given de-escalation and anti-bias training, and is well-versed in restorative justice and practices as it was said in their contract.
The original action on October 12th regarding the SRD contract stays put despite the recent public comments.
President Ford led this act, by saying, “I make the motion to not renew the contract for an SRD at San Marcos High School and to direct district staff to re-imagine and reallocate funds and create better alternatives and solutions at all three high schools for addressing issues on campus that negatively affect learning such as poor attendance, personal or family involvement with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs or bullying, harassment or other types of violence.”
Go to the SB Unified District website and find the October 12th and October 25th board meetings (begin at 2:45:50 for the first meeting) to listen to both of the meetings in whole.