The Right to Remain a Student: How California School Policies Fail to Protect and Serve

Police presence on campus has become a troubling reality for many students throughout California. What was once a space for academics and social growth is now an environment where students feel like suspects and criminals. These realities occasionally garner public attention, most often when videos showing police violence against youth on campus shock the nation. Equally shocking—but less reported—are the circumstances surrounding these incidents, the long-term consequences of student interactions with police on campus, and the general lack of district-level policies to govern police conduct on campus.

The ACLU of California's report, The Right to Remain a Student: How California School Policies Fail to Protect and Serve, discusses these effects of increased police presence on campus and reviews school district policies on student discipline and police conduct on campus. Notably, we found that:

  1. School districts often rely on police officers to handle minor violations, who then frequently mishandle the situation, resulting in harmful consequences for students and families;
  2. Criminalization has short and long-term damage and funnels students into the school-to-prison pipeline;
  3. Student-police interactions disproportionately impact low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities; and
  4. Many California school districts have conflicting, vague, or absent policies that provide little to no meaningful guidance to school staff on when to call police to campus and how to interact with police.

The report's findings make one thing very clear: districts should not permanently station police on campus. However, as long as police remain on campus, districts must adopt and enforce policies that clearly guide school staff on whether and when they can request police assistance. Similarly, districts policies must establish procedures that protect students' rights during interactions with police.

In addition to the report, the ACLU developed Model Advocacy Resources that help counteract the influence of unconscious bias on staff decisions and eliminate police involvement in school disciplinary matters better left to administrator, counselors, and mental health professionals. The Model Advocacy Resources help community stakeholders identify problematic district policies, develop advocacy strategies, and push their district to adopt and enforce policies that give meaningful protection to students' rights on campus. Keep reading for our Model Advocacy Resources guide.

ACLU Model Advocacy Resources

At the outset, advocating for change at the district, school-site, and community level can seem daunting. Between board policies, administrative regulations, and memoranda of understanding, accessing, understanding, and challenging the policies that your district uses to govern police conduct on campus can feel overwhelming.

To help community members navigate their district's policies, and understand why, when, and where to use the ACLU's Model Advocacy Resources, we divided the advocacy process into four steps:

  1. Get the Information
  2. Identify the Issues and Your Audience
  3. Voice Your Concerns
  4. Follow up

To begin, first find the advocacy step that most relates to your current needs.

Some Things to Keep in Mind When Using Our Model Advocacy Resources:

  1. Annotated Model Advocacy Resources: You will always see two links for each policy resource: one link to a model policy, and a second link to an annotated version of the same model policy. The annotated version describes why the document is important. It also identifies and explains the legal and practical issues that provisions in the policy address. The annotations can help you identify where your district's policies are insufficient, and provide talking points that support adopting the model policy.
  2. The Advocacy Steps and Annotations Are Meant to Help — Not Limit — You: The Four-Step Advocacy Process and annotated Model Advocacy Resource are there to help community members understand how and when the resources fit in the advocacy process. However, there are many other reasons and occasions where these document could be relevant — use them when and where it fits, not only where we have placed them in the Advocacy Process.


First, Determine Which Step is Appropriate for You


Do you:

Know there is a police issue on campus, but:

  • Do not know if your school has policies about police on campus;
  • Know your district has policies about police on campus but do not know how to access the policies;
  • Need help understanding your district's policies.


Step One: Get the Information >

Have your district's policies and:

  • Need model policies to help analyze your District's policies;
  • Need help identifying which policies are most important for your issues;
  • Want to understand why different policies are a better option.


Step Two: Identify the Issues and Your Audience >

Know what specific policy changes you want, but need advice for working with the school board or the public.


Step Three: Advocate for Change >

Want to follow up on past advocacy to the school board or community by:

  • To make sure the board reviewed your proposal;
  • Follow up data about the policy's implementation;
  • To gather information about the community's reaction to the new policy.


Step Four: Follow up >


Step One: Get the Information

Which ACLU Model Advocacy Resource(s) are most relevant for the issues in your district depends on whether your district has existing policies about police conduct on-campus. Once you find your districts policies, you can compare them with the ACLU's Model Advocacy Resources identify differences and gaps between the two, paying particular attention to the sections we identified as important.


Step Two: Identify the Issues and Your Audience

After locating your district's policies and/or MOU (or, lack thereof), the next step in the advocacy process is determining whether those policies adequately protect students against needless interactions with police on campus. To measure the strength of your district's policies, use the ACLU's Model Advocacy Resources an example of a strong policy.

Looking at your district's BPs or MOU, you may notice that they are lengthy, not easy to understand, and that it is sometimes difficult to identify — and differentiate between — good and bad provisions.

When assigned complicated homework, students often rely on study aides like SparkNotes and CliffsNotes to explain those difficult assignments. Like reading Othello and learning physics and geometry, there can be a learning curve to understanding what a BP or MOU says, and identifying and analyzing their important provisions. That is where the ACLU of California's Annotated Advocacy Resources come in. Think of the Annotated Resources as a study aide—they make dense legal documents easier to understand by identifying and explaining important provisions.

If Your District has (or needs) BPs:

Through a provision-by-provision explanation, the Annotated Model BPs translate legalese into plain English to help you understand your district's policies, compare them with the ACLU's Model Advocacy Resources, and identify areas where your district's policies are inadequate.

Find your districts BP(s) that most relate to the issues on your campus. For instance, if police keep searching students on campus, locate your districts "Search and Seizure" BP. Next, review the ACLU Model Search and Seizure BP and its corresponding Annotated Model BP. Compare these two policies, provision by provisions, paying special attention to the sections that the Annotated Model BP identifies as important. Do this for all your district's policies that you want to review.

Model School Board Policies:

If Your District has (or needs) an MOU:

The Annotated Model MOU identifies the provisions that you should specifically look for in your district's MOU. You will reveal areas of concern where your district's MOU does not include a provision that the ACLU's Annotated MOU identifies as important.

Once You Identify the Issues, Identify your Audience

You can aim your advocacy efforts towards a number of people or groups. You can host a meeting with local community members to discuss your findings and develop a group advocacy plan, reach out to allies in your local school's administrative staff (like the principal), or you can go straight to your district's school board and superintendent.

If you want to go raise your concerns with the district's School Board or Superintendent, check out A Parents' Guide to School Board Advocacy in California. This guide is a general overview of the roles and responsibilities of school boards and superintendents in California, with a focus on how they adopt policies. This can help you identify to whom you should to direct your advocacy efforts.


Step Three: Make Your Voice Heard

Are you Addressing the School Board or Superintendent?

Under California law, you have the right to attend school board meetings and bring up issues of concern. However, districts often have policies that specifically govern when and how the public can participate in meetings. A Parents' Guide to School Board Advocacy in California discusses the public's right to attend and participate in school board meetings and offers guidance for how to locate your district's policies on public participation.

Another way to raise the issue is to send the board members a letter in support of changing the policies, a template for which you can find here.

Are you Addressing your Local Community?

Local newspapers and magazines are great resources that can reach many community members with a single story. Writing a "letter to the editor" of a local publication can spark interest in your advocacy efforts and the issues associated with police on campus. Use Letter to the Editor: Things to Remember as a resource for drafting your own letter to the editor.


Step Four: Follow Up

Even the strongest policy is nothing without implementation. Community oversight can act as a system of checks and balances to ensure that the district is implementing the policies and that they are effective.

Community Oversight — PRAs

Public Records Act ("PRA") requests can be a powerful "follow up" resource. California law requires that public entities make certain public documents available for review upon request e.g., a public records act request.

The ACLU developed a Model PRAs that you send to your school district. Like the Model BPs and MOU, there is a corresponding Annotated PRA that includes general advice for submitting PRAs, as well as a request-by-request explanation of what information you will likely receive under each request.

Community Oversight — School Climate Survey

You can also reach out to those directly affected: students on campus. Ask your local school (or, your district) to administer a School Climate Survey. This survey is an outlet for students to discuss the new policies' successes and failures. School Climate Survey results can inform future decisions to revise or remove policies.

The ACLU developed a model School Climate Survey that gauges students' thoughts about police on campus. Use our School Climate Survey on your campus, or as a starting point to develop your own. From this information, you can learn whether the new policies are remedying police-related issues on campus, and consider which policies need revision, if any.

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