Over 20 Central Valley schools have a police officer but no counselors on campus

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- California's superintendent of schools is rethinking cops on campus in a smaller piece of a big police reform movement, and Action News brought to his attention a potential imbalance at some Central Valley schools.

Tony Thurmond says resource officers play an important role, but the state might need to change that role.

"I've already seen data that shows in many cases that when there are police on campus this results in more suspensions or arrests of our students."

School is out, but lunch is still on the menu at Wawona K-8 and one of the servers is in uniform.

"Right now, that's part of my job duty is to hand out lunches," said Fresno County sheriff's deputy Nayelle Vasquez. "I can see how thankful they are."

Vasquez is a school resource officer at Wawona and says her main job is making the kids feel safe.

"That comes with interacting with them, getting them to trust me, letting them know I'm someone who they can come to," she said.

And handing out lunch during a health crisis.

Wawona is one of 27 Fresno Unified schools with resource officers stationed on campus. 12 of the schools have full-time officers. 15 are "student and neighborhood resource officers" who are supposed to spend half their time on campus and half in the neighboring communities. The county probation department also has nine officers on campuses, doubling up with police.

Wawona has counseling and nursing available on campus, but not all schools with law enforcement also have those services.

We dug into data school districts provide the U.S. Department of Education and found at least three schools in Fresno Unified -- Cambridge Continuation, Tioga Middle School, and Hamilton Elementary -- and more than 20 in the Valley with police but no counselors on campus.

(School districts report the data to the Department of Education themselves. Fresno Unified seems to have properly listed where it places counselors and nurses, but reported only one school with police officers -- Phoenix Elementary School, which actually does not have any officers. Action News found no discrepancies in the data from other school districts and Fresno Unified provided us our own list of schools with officers for this analysis.)

So when the state superintendent of schools outlined his efforts to examine the impact of officers on campus, we asked him about the schools with police but no mental health services on campus.

"Obviously that is a mismatch," Thurmond told us. "Every one of our schools should have access to counseling staff. We know the way our state has funded education has made it difficult for schools to maintain these positions."

Thurmond says his task force will hold a hearing on June 30 to take a closer look at data and research about campus policing.

He says he knows there are incidents when school resource officers are indispensable. But he's also seen research suggesting the presence of police in schools can lead to higher rates of arrests and discipline, especially in schools attended by minority students.

"There should never be a time when anyone is in a position to criminalize our kids," Thurmond said. "At the same time, we recognize - and the research supports this - that we still have to figure out ways to address issues like police shootings, a gun on campus, threats, you know, bomb threats on campus."

Thurmond's task force doesn't have a deadline yet for its recommendations for changing policies about school resource officers.

But he's already pushing the idea of alternatives like more restorative justice programs, and funding more social and emotional learning programs instead of police at school.
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