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December 30, 2009 > School resource officer program under review

School resource officer program under review

By Simon Wong

There are signs Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) might eliminate its School Resources Officer (SRO) Program, adopted by many other cities since its inception in Hayward more than 30 years ago. What will replace it to ensure uninterrupted security and safety of middle and high school campuses, students and staff is unknown. HUSD administrative staff has until early January 2010 to find a solution.

The contract with Hayward Police Department (HPD) to staff the SRO program is due for renewal but Maribel Heredia, the school board's new vice-president, proposed a motion to extend the existing contract rather than renew it at the Board's December 9 meeting and directed HUSD staff to bring back the matter on January 27, 2010 with alternatives. This motion was adopted unanimously. On December 22, TCV extended Heredia the opportunity to comment on the rationale for her decision and she has yet to respond.

That decision heightens the City's concerns for safety in Hayward schools along with the Board's proposed revisions to the annual service agreement for HPD to supply SROs. According to sources close to the situation, Police Chief Ron Ace and City Manager Greg Jones have expressed their reservations to outgoing Superintendent Dr. Dale Vigil with whom they have an excellent working relationship. Their communications are from one administrator to another rather than to the Board as an entity.

Hayward's SRO Program has operated successfully for three decades through what has been described as "strong partnership" between HPD and HUSD. Public safety is a priority for the Council, City and school district. The City and Council firmly support the Program's continuation as a priority, despite budget constraints, to avoid jeopardizing safety on school campuses. The City pays for four SROs and a sergeant and HUSD finances two SRO positions.

Relatives of a man arrested by a SRO at Tennyson High School in April 2009 claimed bias in the incident. The draft service agreement contains changes that give HUSD and teaching staff greater powers over SROs, their suitability and roles and responsibilities. Apparently, the City learned of the proposals when it reviewed the draft agreement.

First, HUSD wants sole discretion over the replacement of any SRO it deems unsuitable for an assignment. Second, a school principal, or designee, will have the final decision about who can or cannot be on campus (Education Code Section 32211), thus, overriding a SRO's legal authority and responsibility to act (Penal Code 626.8). Third, SROs should be aware that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representatives will not be allowed on any campus; the inference is that SROs must enforce such a ban. Fourth, HPD must remove officers from any campus until an investigation or complaint about performance is complete. Fifth, HUSD has drafted a SRO job description that appears to limit an officer's access to interview and question students unless the matter is school-related. SROs should not treat illegal misdemeanors as violations of law but allow the principle to decide appropriate action. SROs will no longer be considered school officials and, therefore, lose their legal standing and ability to act as school officials who have the authority to investigate and search students. SRO's will have to rely on probable cause or obtain search warrants.

There is disquiet that HUSD is using the revisions and the agreement to dispel any lingering controversy from April 2009. In Ace's opinion, the changes are unnecessary and detrimental. The existing agreement has served everyone well and the Chief acknowledges there has been increased cooperation and collaboration between HPD and HUSD. He made clear his objections to Vigil and HUSD in late November and early December.

Jones fully supports the Chief's position and, on December 23, indicated to Vigil the existing terms have been renewed for many years.

Given the Board's possible abolition of the SRO Program on January 27, 2010, the City is looking to redeploy the six SROs in the wider community. The City hopes the Board will retain the SRO Program.

The latter is just part of the City's and Council's outreach efforts to strengthen collaboration with HUSD and all school board members.

Mayor Mike Sweeney and Council members Anna May and Bill Quirk, Council liaisons to the Hayward Local Agency Committee, iterated the need for partnership in early November following the announcement HUSD's 2009 Academic Performance Index (API) is the worst in Alameda County after years of languishing near the bottom. A school board member thanked Councilman Francisco Zermeno for not appending his name and signature to the letter from Sweeney, May and Quirk.

The City would like to work with HUSD and is prepared to assist though education is the official responsibility of a school district. The Mayor, May and Quirk wish to stem the flight of families to better-performing districts, reverse the deterioration of local neighborhoods, improve the quality of life, halt the erosion of property values and provide a customer-base that supports local businesses. Education is a community issue that either yields tremendous socio-economic benefits or has far-reaching consequences that affect students and their communities and could persist for generations.

They assert the need for clear objectives that focus on achievement, safety and discipline, conspicuous by their absence in the Board's 2007 goals. The Board's updated goals, approved on December 9 for the 2009-10 academic year, are: increase academic excellence through rigorous standards-based instruction; foster district and school leadership; prioritize systems that create a safe and supportive learning environment; sustain efficient business service practices and build positive community relations.

"I completed the two-day Choices Program workshop delivered to 9th graders at Mt. Eden High School, my alma mater. Freshmen learn that the choices they make affect their futures," May informed the Board at its December meeting. "I was surprised the main office has a large mural talking about sexual orientation instead of a student honor roll. I'd like to see the latter in the hallway rather than focus on something a little different."

"HUSD's test scores and lack of progress disappointed the community. The popular perception is the Board lacks direction, focus and concentration on the key issues in our schools," stated Julie McKillip, Planning Commissioner and Chair of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce Board. "The community takes a more active interest in what happens, following the passage of Measure I [HUSD's $205M June 2008 bond measure]. API scores are not the sole measure of a school district but they indicate something is lacking in HUSD. I'd encourage the Board to take a more active interest in the raison d'etre of schools - education, academic achievement and a safe learning environment. The community wants you to consider these issues and focus on what's important to improve our schools."

The Board accepted the retirement agreement, in closed session on December 11, of Superintendent Dr. Dale W. Vigil effective June 30, 2010. Under the agreement Dr. Vigil will step down as Superintendent on December 31, 2009. Four "ayes" (Frumkin, Heredia, Sims, Gonzales), one "nay" (Reynoso) and no abstentions.

The Board voted 5-0-0 to appoint Mrs. Janis Duran as Interim Superintendent with effect from January 4, 2010.

The HUSD School Board will meet at 6.30 p.m. on January 13 and 27, Council Chambers, Hayward City Hall.

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