Oakland school board introduces resolution for police-free schools

The Oakland School District board on Wednesday night began considering a proposal to eliminate the district's own police department by the end of the year.

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel endorsed the resolution put forward by one of the board members.

"I am recommending that we move forward to create a district plan, a safety plan to ensure the safety, health, positive school environment for students and adults without a police department," said Johnson-Trammel.

Board member Rosie Torres introduced the proposal at the OUSD board's online meeting Wednesday night, which drew more than 300 people.

"This is called the George Floyd Resolution to eliminate the OUSD Police department," Torres announced.

Oakland's school district has its own police department with ten sworn officers who respond to calls for help and 57 civilian school security officers who are assigned to schools. That differs from many other school districts that use city police.

A rally before the board meeting was held with parents, teachers, and community members, many motivated by the nationwide protests and calls for change in policing. Supporters of the resolution say the $2 million spent on policing should go to other student needs.

"We don't want police in the schools. We want teachers. We want librarians," said Jackie Byers with the Black Organizing Project.

The group Black Organizing Project has been calling for reducing police presence at schools since 2011, after an officer shot and killed 20-year-old Raheim Brown near Skyline High School.

A petition posted by an Oakland student on the website Change.Org had more than 15,000 signatures Wednesday night.

Board members and community members voiced support but also noted the challenges.

"I'm going to ask that any resolution that's accepted makes it clear that we will not be going to be just replacing these officers with OPD officers," said one parent who spoke at the online meeting and identified herself as Vera Sloane.

Others voiced concerns about student and staff safety.

"Our union is not 100% all in agreement," said Lee Thomas, President of the United Administrators of Oakland Schools union. He says the union took a survey and found some members worry that school safety issues might not get the same attention if the district relies only on city police officers.

"I personally was on campus when we had an incident that had robbers run on campus during school time," said Thomas, questioning whether and Oakland Police Department would have been able to respond as quickly.

Oakland City Council Member Noel Gallo was on the school board some 20 years ago, when the district decided to form the school police.

"We tried the Oakland Police department, contracting with them, but that didn't work out because of their approach...was unacceptable to many of our teachers and families," said Gallo.

One speaker who identified herself as Janelle Hampton, a labor representative for the school police officers, says Oakland school officers are specially trained to work with students and handle thousands of calls for help a year.

Hampton says former Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick had sent a letter in the past noting that the Oakland Police Department's resources were tight, prompting concern about response time if school duties are transferred to city police.

"They don't have the bandwidth in any way. Their vacancies are high. Their employment numbers are low," said Hampton.

The board did not vote Wednesday night, but could take action at the next meeting on June 24.

The superintendent says if approved, the district would create a safety committee to transition by December.