The FUSD board of trustees and the Board of Education have not made significant progress for both students and teachers evidenced by the recent SRO issue.
The Fremont Unified School District and its constituents are performative activists. Years have passed, but the same issues teachers and students are facing have not been solved. Including large class sizes, massive caseloads for counselors, and students’ mental health concerns, the school board has not been doing enough. It has been especially evident that the education system has been failing its employees and students thanks in part to the pandemic. With work and school being at home, the public’s eyes have turned towards systematic issues that affect people on a personal level. Part of this includes the Black Lives Matter movement that gained traction in the summer of 2020. It helped to push forward studies revealing that minority students, specifically black students, were disproportionately discriminated against in schools by Student Resource Officers (SROs) in schools. This issue made it to our very own school district, and many students pushed for the SRO program to be abolished.
For context, according to the Fremont Police Department’s website, the SRO program makes up $838,000 of the 2020-2021 FUSD budget. The program in whole, however, costs a total of $2.5 million, with the contribution of both the FPD and FUSD. In abolishing the SRO program, I, along with other students, hoped this would go towards funding mental health programs and alternatives. Examples include increasing the number of mental health professionals, de-escalation training for staff, and developing restorative justice programs. In response to the voices calling for the abolishment of the SRO program, FUSD took a step in the right direction, and created an SRO taskforce to reevaluate the program and make recommendations. In their evaluation, their very first recommendation was to remove the program altogether. With its removal, they found that with the program’s funding, more counselors and professionals could be hired. “The entire amount paid by FUSD for the SRO program could fund full-time Healthy Choice mental health interns in every school with money left over. For every SRO that FUSD pays for, we could hire between 1.5-3 mental health counselors or school nurses and 1.5-2.5 school psychologists.” the task force states in their report. Their additional concerns are listed below.
On November 12, 2020, the board of trustees decided to remove the SRO program and divert funding suggested by the task force — only to reverse their decision one month later on December 16th after the Board of Education requested to put the item back on the agenda. Parents also expressed their concerns for their children’s safety on campus during these board meetings. On January 20th, during finals week for many students and after parents expressed their concerns for the safety of their children, the board with new members Vivek Prasad and Yajing Zhang came to a decision.
“Board votes 4-1 to reinstate SRO Program with no funding by FUSD while in shelter-in-place and begin discussions to review parameters with the City and Police Department on options for next steps moving forward.” states the SRO page on the FUSD website.
They listened to us for a month, and then it felt like they no longer cared. The Board reversed our progress, stating that mental health and the SRO program were not mutually exclusive: that they wanted to see alternatives, despite an almost 70-page report addressing both concerns written by a task force that they created. American High School only has 5 counselors for a total of approximately 2,500 students; a caseload of nearly 500 cases per counselor. Now that the voices have died down, the SRO program, the diverted funds of which would have helped pay for more counselors and aid American students’ mental health at this tumultuous time, is planned to be reinstated moving forward. The issue is now being put aside in favor of reopening schools for Governor Gavin Newsom’s funding plan. Counselors are now advocating for FUDTA to help prioritize counselor caseload caps in the labor contract instead of relying on these limited, one-time use funds, such as the diverted funding from the SRO program and the money Governor Newsom has promised to give to reopened schools. The board is jumping after limited, single opportunity funds at the expense of the safety of students. The FUSD board are performative activists, and this series of events over the past months shows it.