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In wake of Texas massacre, ramped-up police patrols around SF schools revive debate about officers on campus

As students arrive to school, SFPD vehicle is parked outside Mission High School in San Francisco, on Thursday May 26, 2022. | Jana Ašenbrennerová for The Standard | Source: Jana Ašenbrennerová for The Standard

When San Francisco police said they’d step up patrols around local schools after the massacre in Texas, some families wondered if the move would undermine efforts to keep officers off public K-12 campuses. 

The San Francisco Unified School District announced on Tuesday that, despite no local threats related to the Uvalde shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers, SFPD would increase patrols around schools through June 1

The news raised questions about whether the move conflicted with a 2020 SFUSD resolution passed in the wake of mass social unrest over the police killing of George Floyd that generally prohibits armed officers on campus. The policy declared each San Francisco public school campus “a sanctuary space from law enforcement,” and called for more community resources to establish an alternative sense of safety and security. 

Students are arriving to Everett Middle School in San Francisco, on Thursday May 26, 2022.

District officials originally said that police “informed us” about the ramped-up policing and later clarified that, to the district’s understanding, it would take place off campus. SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick added that schools may call for police to help protect the physical safety of students and staff or to address criminal behavior by non-students.  

“Unless requested for a specific reason or in response to a known security threat,” Dudnick said. “SFPD does not enter SFUSD school property. There are increased police patrols near city schools, which means they are driving in the vicinity of schools.”

Allyson Eddy Bravmann, parent of an eighth-grader at Francisco Middle School, decried the heightened police presence as a backwards step from the 2020 resolution. While she appreciates the district’s clarification that the patrols would remain off campus, she said students still had to pass an officer at the fence on their way to class Wednesday morning.

“It certainly doesn’t make me feel safer as a parent,” she said. “It feels to me like it was really unnecessary.”

In Uvalde, police were criticized for what some onlookers called a delayed response to the shooting while anxious and frustrated parents at the scene shouted at them to act. The shooter was inside the building for at least an hour before authorities killed him, according to Washington Post analysis Thursday of a video from the scene.

A fourth-grader who survived the Texas massacre recounted to KENS 5 that one officer said, “‘Yell if you need help!’ And one of the persons in my class said ‘help,’ the [shooter] overheard and he came in and shot her.”

SFPD did not comment on how it would engage with students. It is also unclear how often police will frequent city schools, and in which areas. 

“While there is no known threat to the City of San Francisco at this time, our department is staffed to handle all calls for service citywide,” SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie said. “At this time, the community can expect to see an increased police presence near city schools.”

As students arrive to school, SFPD vehicle is parked outside Mission High School in San Francisco, on Thursday May 26, 2022. | Jana Ašenbrennerová for The Standard | Source: Jana Ašenbrennerová for The Standard

The 2020 resolution formally ended SFUSD’s relationship with SFPD and called to redirect the $46,000 annually sent to the department toward behavioral health professionals. If law enforcement is needed on campus, families and the Public Defender’s Office must first be notified and interactions with children are instructed to be limited. 

Commissioner Kevine Boggess helped author the resolution as education policy director at Coleman Advocates before being elected to the board later that year. Realistically, the Board of Education can’t completely banish police from campus, he said. The policy was meant to substitute punitive measures and figures like police with other resources to support students.

“The implementation of it leaves something to be desired,” Boggess said. “I don’t feel like schools were supported with the resources and community to establish other relationships to play those roles of supporting safety. Our schools are safer when there is more adult supervision.”

However, SFUSD will soon tap into a $33.7 million grant from the state to expand the community school model, which stations specialized staff on campuses to take care of student needs outside the classroom.