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Board envisions revised role for police at school

Benjamin Huang and Jevan Yu

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The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education is pursuing a new, revised memorandum of understanding with the Palo Alto Police Department to delineate responsibilities and encourage cooperation between the district and police department when responding to incidents of sexual misconduct.

After some discussion at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, the board decided to postpone approval of the memorandum to a later date.

The MOU is required by the district’s resolution agreement, reached in February 2017, with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Palo Alto City Council approved the MOU on Aug. 13. 

Exhibit A of the memorandum stipulates that School Resource Officers, members of the Palo Alto Police Department, will be able to perform services including emergency training at schools, transportation of students into psychiatric holds when deemed necessary and searches of students on campus.

Supt. Donald Austin, in his first year at the district, sits at the dais at the first Board of Education meeting of the school year. Austin previously served as the superintendent of Palos Verdes Unified School District. Photo: Jevan Yu

The agreement also delegates certain responsibilities to both the school district and the police department. Those of the district include training SROs to respond to reports of sexual misconduct and following certain procedures when a protective order has been issued for a student, such as changing the affected students’ schedules and working with the restrained and protected students on a plan of implementation.

The police department’s responsibilities include following district check-in procedures when apprehending students and addressing violations of restraining orders.

Some of the debate at Tuesday’s board meeting centered on Section J of Exhibit A in the agreement, which states that the school resource officer “shall use mechanical restraints on a student being transported to a medical facility.” Alex Scharf, who is running for a board seat on a platform focused on mental health and special education, said in the open forum that the term “shall use” could result in discriminatory practices, particularly against special needs students.

“I find a problem with this, that the ‘shall use’ term kind of [implies] that it should be the automatic procedure,” Scharf said. “It should be changed to ‘may use according to the Handcuffing and Restraints Policy #306.’ This is just a policy that is targeting the mentally disabled.”

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell agreed, taking issue with use of the word “shall.”

“I don’t know what the law is on this, but it just doesn’t seem to make sense to me that every single student being transported to a medical facility will need mechanical restraints,” Baten Caswell said.

A representative from the police department, Captain Andrew Binder, confirmed at the meeting that the PAPD’s standard protocol dictates that mechanical restraints are used whenever an individual is being transported in such a scenario. Binder also clarified “mechanical restraints” to mean handcuffs.

Community member Michelle Higgins expressed other concerns about the MOU, saying it should include special provisions for students with special needs.

“Special needs students face greater vulnerability when it comes to interactions with the police, and our district data shows that they are also overrepresented in disciplinary proceedings,” Higgins said. “Regulations, policies and training practices must ensure that there are sensitive and skilled responders when confronted with behaviors that may be exhibited by students with disabilities.”

The board will convene for a regular meeting next on Sept. 4 at the district office.

1 Comment

One Response to “Board envisions revised role for police at school”

  1. Cindy Goral on September 5th, 2018 12:12 am

    Scharf is right about referring to the policy 306.

    Per current PAPD policy dated March 2017 (and same wording in the 2014 PAPD policy so it has not changed), states in section 418.5 “When transporting any individual for a 5150 commitment…officers may transport individuals in a patrol unit and shall secure them in accordance with the Handcuffing and Restraints Policy.”

    The Handcuffing and Restraints Policy 306 states
    306.2 states: “When deciding whether to use any restraint, officers should carefully balance officer safety concerns with factors that include, but are not limited to:
    – The circumstances or crime leading to the arrest
    – The demeanor and behavior of the arrested person
    – The age and health of the person
    – Whether the person is known to be pregnant
    – Whether the person has a hearing or speaking disability. In such cases, consideration should be given, safety permitting, to handcuffing to the front in order to allow the person to sign or write notes
    – Whether the person has any other apparent disability”

    306.3.3 states: “A juvenile under 14 years of age should not be restrained unless he/she is suspected of a dangerous felony or when the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the juvenile may resist, attempt escape, injure him/herself, injure the officer or damage property”

    306.4 states: “Handcuffs, including temporary nylon or plastic cuffs, may be used only to restrain a person’s hands to ensure officer safety. Although recommended for most arrest situations, handcuffing is discretionary and not an absolute requirement of the Department. Officers should consider handcuffing any person they reasonably believe warrants that degree of restraint. However, officers should not conclude that in order to avoid risk every person should be handcuffed, regardless of the circumstances.”

    PAPD policy states that use of handcuffs is not an absolute requirement, rather it is discretionary, contrary to what was reported by the police officer at the meeting who stated it was a requirement.

    In addition, the definition of a mechanical restraint goes beyond handcuffs and is “Any restrictive device (e.g., seatbelt, straitjacket, vest, or physical confinement) used to restrict a person’s free movement, most commonly in emergency situations.” Other devices described in the PAPD policy under restraints are 306.5 Spit Hoods, 306.6 auxillary restraint devices such as chains and belts, and 306.7 leg restraints. If the intent is handcuffs, say handcuffs.

    Using a mechanical restraint of any kind on someone with a mental health issue is demeaning. It should only be done when absolutely necessary if there is risk of injury to the student or officer. Stating in the MOU that transporting a student on a 5150 requires a mechanical restraint 100% of the time is not in line with the current PAPD Handcuffing and Restraints Policy.

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