By Jorge Lerma
A disturbing new video has surfaced showing security guards at Fremont High in Oakland roughing up and handcuffing a student in the school’s office.
The school district is saying the Jan. 8 video may not show what it seems to show. The district says the 16-year-old student was acting strangely, was a danger to himself and had to be restrained.
But what we see in the video is a Latino student acting calmly and trying to walk out of the office door when he was manhandled by a School Security Officer who began hitting him and pushed him into a room, where he was joined by several other officers. A few moments later, we see the young man being taken out of the side room handcuffed.
This is not a new occurrence for Fremont High and the Oakland Unified School District. A school security camera last year recorded a Latino student also being beaten up by security guards at Fremont High in the main office.
Earlier at Oakland High School, a camera caught a security guard attacking a student in a wheelchair.
As a lifelong educator, Oakland resident and community activist, I think it is fair to say that a systemic, endemic problem exists in Oakland Unified. The videos are capturing Latino students, often special education students, being brutalized – not out of the public eye in the parking lot or behind the gym – but in the main office of the school.
And from what we witness in the videos, nobody intervened to stop the assaults.
This kind of behavior may be shocking news to people in our community, but you can be sure the students at our schools know about it, and many have experienced it.
If this kind of violence is condoned against our children, we would have to be naïve to believe the school system enforces a respectful, humane educational environment in the classrooms and that all of our students – especially our special educational students – are given opportunities to be successful.
Of course, there are many decent and humane teachers, administrators and security officers who love their students and dedicate their lives to education.
But do they have the power to change this system? Do they have the ability to intervene when our students are brutalized by those in authority?
Do those with the experience and the humanity have the opportunity to select and train the inexperienced teachers, administrators and consultants who at present troop through our schools for six months, a year or two years without a clue about our students and the complex multicultural diversity of student needs in our community.
Last year, after the last incident at Fremont, the Latino Education Network (LEN), of which I am member, submitted a list of questions and concerns to the district, but we never received a response.
The concerns were:
School Security Officers (SSOs) display a lack of professionalism;
They lack training in how to work with students with learning disabilities, cultural and language differences and angry or upset students.
The security force is not diverse or multicultural in its makeup, or have enough bilingual personnel to help students in a crisis;
SSOs have a lot that is expected of them in terms of stopping violence and maintaining safety at the school site, but they are not trained in the least confrontational ways of doing their jobs;
The security force lacks proportional Latinos and Spanish- speaking officers in its ranks and in the leadership from the superintendent’s cabinet to the program operations.
The district administration talks in speeches, and press releases about “Equity and Redesign” of schools, and though the words are bold, the reality is that our children are suffering, living in the margins and are often excluded from the benefits of the mainstream academic programs.
At this point, I think it is clear that the school security force should be temporarily disbanded and totally reorganized.
A group of parents, students and community activists (especially high school students and members of youth organizations) should be established – not handpicked by administrative staff – to create guidelines and oversee the creation of a new “peace keepers” security force that protects and supports students and are integrated into the academic programs of the district, not just Fremont High School alone, but throughout the district.