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Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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A majority of students report feeling safe at school, and nearly all juvenile arrests are happening outside of campus, according to Gilroy Unified School District data.

District officials released the survey results during a Board of Education meeting April 21 where the trustees were asked to renew an agreement for two school resource officers for the next year. The data was also discussed during a joint meeting April 25 between the board and Gilroy City Council.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the agreement. The City of Gilroy and district will split the $514,643 cost, with the council expected to consider its portion in May.

Pre-pandemic, GUSD had two school resource officers, but the contract with the police department was not renewed for the 2020-21 school year because students were not on campus due to Covid-19.

The district and council agreed to bring back two officers in the fall, with the positions being filled in December and January.

As students returned to in-person instruction in August, Superintendent Deborah Flores said the district experienced an uptick in fights and other disciplinary issues.

According to district data, while alcohol- and drug-related offenses have dropped in the current year compared to pre-pandemic numbers, the number of fights at the secondary schools resulting in suspensions stood at 360 as of March, above the 243 reported in 2019-20.

“We were not surprised because students were at home for 14 months not interacting with each other,” Flores said. “A lot of things were building up on social media.”

From August through March, police reported 24 juvenile arrests outside of school campus, according to district data, while six of those occurred on campus, four of which were at Gilroy High School.

A survey of nearly 3,000 students, 870 parents and 221 district staff conducted in April found that 79% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt safe inside the classroom. Nearly 70% witnessed a fight on campus, while 61% of students said a school resource officer made them feel safe on campus. Twenty-six percent, however, reported they had not had contact with an officer at the time of the survey.

Flores said that although those against having police officers on campus are concerned that it will lead to more arrests, the data shows otherwise.

“It’s never been true in our district,” she said. “Very few arrests occur in our schools. Our model includes a lot of prevention, intervention and developing relationships with students and staff.”

A pair of speakers at the board’s April 21 meeting called on the district to use the funding for more counselors and restorative justice and mental health programs, rather than on police officers.

Flores said the district this year hired an additional mental health therapist and social worker.

Trustee Tuyen Fiack, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the agreement in October, supported it on April 21.

She said she liked the direction the program is heading, citing the officers’ work in preventing students from falling into the criminal justice system. She added that she wanted to see demographics from respondents in the next survey.

“I do feel that this is a stopgap,” she said. “I don’t think SROs on our campuses are a permanent solution.”

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

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