Black Student Union members at Foothill High School told the Weekly recently that they felt like the Pleasanton school district had ghosted them after listening to student concerns about armed school resource officers.
"We mainly all came to a good decision that the officers should leave their service weapon in their car, because the officer parks pretty much on campus, like, really close," said Aria Harris, a Foothill senior and BSU president. "(All of us) were saying how the officer having their service weapon with them kind of makes us uncomfortable ... but after the meeting, we never really heard back about what would possibly happen with that and if they wanted to consider that or not."
Harris was referring to a meeting on May 5 the BSU had with student services staff from the Pleasanton Unified School District. The meeting was part of a listening campaign meant to gather feedback from student focus groups such as the BSUs at both Foothill and Amador Valley high schools, as well as others.
Before getting that feedback from the students groups, the district surveyed about 400 students via Google Form email surveys -- all of which was compiled into a report for the Pleasanton school board during the same month.
The report was meant to update the Board of Trustees on how the school resource officer program was doing after the city approved a three-year contract memorandum of understanding with the district regarding the program.
During the meeting with the district staff, BSU members voiced their uncomfortable feelings with school officers being armed and asked to open the discussion on alternatives such as leaving their gun in their patrol car, which Harris said is already parked on campus.
She made it clear that the members didn't have a problem with the officers being at the school, just that they were armed -- which a Pleasanton Police Department official told the Weekly is a requirement for officers on duty.
"An officer's belt has so many other options that they could use, other than a gun," Harris said. "I just think it's a little unnecessary, especially being around so many children, because you don't know what's gonna happen. Someone could reach for the officer's gun, and it could just be so bad."
She also said some BSU members raised the concern after learning about some recent police shootings where officers mistook their gun for a taser. A recent example of that can be seen with former Minnesota police officer Kimberly Potter who received a two-year sentence for accidentally shooting 20-year-old Daunte Wright instead of tasing him.
"We just thought that the risk isn't really worth ... the officer needing his weapon for a school shooter or something like that," Harris said.
According to the SRO agreement with the school district and the city, officers are legally required to be equipped with a gun.
Pleasanton police Sgt. Marty Billdt told the Weekly that according to last year's MOU for the program, the officers "are not relieved of their official duties as a law enforcement officer."
He said that means the city has the ability to remove those officers from their assigned schools in the case of any serious emergency, which also means they would have to be fully prepared with all their tools -- including their guns.
"A handgun is just one of the many tools law enforcement officers carry," said Billdt, himself a former SRO in Pleasanton. "The SROs, although working in an educational setting, need to be prepared for any type of call at the school and/or in the city."
Still, when district staff came to their BSU meeting and listened to their concerns about officers being armed last spring, Harris said there was no follow up -- making her and other members feel like their concerns don't matter.
"The SRO issue is just part of even a larger issue, because we are (effectively) in a segregated school district and we have such a small Black and Latino population of students, that their voices are often overlooked in school decisions," said Jorie Pratt, an African American literature teacher and BSU adviser at Foothill.
According to Ed-Data, a website that partners with the California Department of Education to provide data on schools in California, 1.5% of the students enrolled in Pleasanton schools were Black and 10.1% were Hispanic or Latino.
"It definitely makes me feel like they just wanted to come and get our opinions about stuff, but didn't really want to do something with our opinions," Harris said. "Like, they just want to do it to act as though they cared and they really want to get our opinions, but in the end, they didn't really do anything about what we told them."
Kendra Kabiru, another senior and member of the BSU at Foothill, said she thinks not following through with their request makes her believe the district doesn't value the club's opinions.
"I think just because so many of us have seen so many horror stories with police officers in schools and stuff, it just kind of rubs us the wrong way that we voiced those concerns, and like nothing was done to kind of help us or anything like that," Kabiru said.
For the most part, district staff had good things to say about the program during the May 26 school board meeting, citing high praise from student, staff and community survey results.
Their data showed that the majority of respondents felt safer and more comfortable with a school resource officer present at each of the schools.
It wasn't until then-student trustee Saachi Bhayani asked why the report didn't include the BSUs' requests on their service weapons that the topic came up.
"When the board came to our (May 5) meeting, they seemed really concerned and how they really valued our opinions and stuff like that," Harris said. "They were taking notes and making sure everyone was heard and stuff like that. But after they came, nothing was done about it. No one reached out to let us know anything about it. The (May 26) board meeting happened. We weren't aware."
Patrick Gannon, director of communications at PUSD, told the Weekly that the district doesn't shy away from these conversations and will continue to look at engaging with students and communities on an annual basis. He also said the district encourages students to engage in these conversations, especially with the school board.
But Bhayani said the problem wasn't just that the district didn't follow through on the BSU requests. She was also upset at how the district surveyed students on this topic.
"Who was checking (their) school email; who's gonna fill out the Google Form?" Bhayani said. "Who's also gonna put trauma into the Google Form? I think that could be a better method of surveying that."
She also said not breaking up the survey to account for race and ethnicity was a problem because it doesn't show the data on how those communities are being impacted specifically.
"The survey that students, families and staff participated in last spring promised anonymity to support honest and open responses," Gannon told the Weekly. "In general, results are not broken out when respondent groups are small enough to be identifiable and thus risk inadvertently disclosing the identity of a student."
But Amara Miller, a sociology professor at the California State University, East Bay, told the Weekly that understanding why these communities of color are impacted more from even just the presence of a police officer is very important when trying to understand this complex issue.
"I think it's important for us as a society to put this in historical context," Miller said. "The origins of police forces in the United States are rooted in racism, not solely toward Black people but also to other racial groups like Asian Americans, Latinx populations and indigenous peoples."
Miller, who's areas of teaching and research focuses on cultural sociology, complex organizations and social movements, said that the history of how old police forces targeted and surveyed minority groups is rooted in all police institutions today.
She said that is why people of color, either in the public or even at schools, can be privy to become a target for any given officer -- and that, coupled with today's world of easily accessible video surveillance showing police brutality, can easily scare any student who falls into that racial category.
"Personally, I don't think police belong in any schools," Miller said. "It's not just because of the risks of police violence against students, which is always a risk even if it might be more rare. Police in schools can decrease feelings of trust among students and impact academic performance especially for students who are from groups that experience over policing."
She said that can include students of color, but also folks who identify as LGBTQ+, disabled populations and even religious minorities.
Sgt. Billdt said Pleasanton police officers do receive department training in implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and conflict resolutions and restorative justice.
But Miller argues it's not enough.
"The issue with just giving police more training is that they are always very short and inadequate on complex topics, and we can't guarantee that police take them seriously," Miller said. "I've known people who have gone in to do training with police officers who have been openly laughed off by those officers attending. That's not always the case, of course, but resistance to change from police is a real concern."
She did add, however, that while she does understand the safety aspect, given all of the recent school shootings, school districts should focus on preemptive solutions in addressing kids who might be dealing with issues at an early age.
"Resources that go to school police could be going to fund more counselors in our schools, teacher's salaries to ensure class sizes are small and they can form deeper connections with their students to better recognize when a student is in need, and programs like restorative/transformative justice approaches to deal with student discipline," Miller said.
Pratt echoed that statement and said that she would also prefer seeing more counselors rather than officers, "rather than a resource that is solely there to punish you or treat them like criminals."
"That's what I told the district in that survey, but who knows what was actually read or not," Pratt said.
Harris ultimately said that she just wishes there can be more discussion on the topic with the district, but made it clear that the district needs to do a better job at following up than last time.
Gannon told the Weekly that the district is looking forward to any future conversations with the police department and any student groups.
"We're fortunate that Pleasanton is a community where the police department is very proactive in engaging the community and families to build positive relationships -- this starts at the elementary level in our schools," Gannon said. "We are committed to ensuring students feel safe on campus, and look forward to conversations on how we can best serve our community in this regard."