San Leandro police begin controversal pilot course with local 5th graders

- Starting next month, San Leandro police officers will be teaching a pilot course to fifth graders in two of this district's elementary schools.

This comes after a unanimous vote of approval by the school board Tuesday night. However, the new program is coming with a lot of resistance from parents, students, and teachers.

"It's taking away from their curriculum and their learning process and that's what they need. These children are having difficulty reading already," says Sheri Cisneros of Oakland who attended the meeting.

Oakland, Hayward and Richmond are among several East Bay School Districts where the course is currently taught.

The 35-45 minute course was created by the Department of Justice.

"We know that from past courses similar to this such as DARE and other instructional courses, this really builds a foundation with fifth grade students that stays with them throughout their life," says San Leandro Police Lt. Robert McManus.

The program is called GREAT, which stands for Gang Resistance Education and Training.

It is a six-week, federally funded course, taught by the two San Leandro school resource officers currently working in the district.

Police say although gang resistance is in the title of the course, there's very little discussion about gangs.

"They teach decision making, they teach communication skills they teach recognizing how to control anger, how to prevent bullying behavior," says McManus.

The police instructors received 60 hours of training for the course, at no cost to the district. But parents at the meeting say there is a cost, their children's education.

"To remove time from our children's education which we know will have a positive influence and to replace it with something we do not know will have any benefit other than PR for the police, I think is inappropriate," says one woman in attendance.

"It’s not about the officers changing the image, it’s really about us as role models in our communities. Being able to instill these life skills," says McManus.

"This is not the place for police. Not in our school classrooms," says one parent.

But everyone in attendance wasn't in agreement.

Some say having officers in the classroom interacting with students at an young age is best for all involved.

"If they start at an early age, they'll get it through their head that they shouldn't do bad things and it doesn't look cool to do drugs," says a San Leandro high school student in attendance.

The program will be taught to fifth graders at San Leandro's Garfield and McKinley elementary schools starting in January. From there, school leaders will look at possibly expanding the course to other schools.

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