Cupertino community attends forum on policing

The FUHSD, CUSD, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and City of Cupertino held a panel on July 8 to discuss policing within Cupertino and its schools


The panelists who were featured at the forum. Photo from YouTube video

Anjali Singh

After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests and activism surrounding policing, members of the Cupertino community requested the FUHSD administration open a dialogue about the School Resource Officer (SRO), policing programs at schools and law enforcement in the city. As a result, in collaboration with FUHSD, CUSD and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office-West Valley Division, the City of Cupertino held a “Community Forum on Policing” Zoom on July 8. 

Cupertino City Manager Deborah Feng, who hosted the event, expresses that these forums represent an important opportunity for residents to share their concerns and voice their opinions with those in positions of power. 

“I have a sense that there’s this built-up tension [around these issues],” Feng said. “I think the only way to relieve that tension is to provide a safe place for people to express [their] First Amendment rights, and be able to [do so] in a safe environment so that we can all get to a point where we can actually talk about race and race relations within our community a little more freely, without fear of looking dumb or ignorant.”

In addition to Feng, the other panelists included Captain of the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office Ricardo Urena, FUHSD Deputy Superintendent Graham Clark, FUHSD Superintendent Polly Bove and CUSD Interim Superintendent Stacy McAfee-Yao. Attendees participated in a Q&A through speaking or chat. According to Clark, he wanted to emphasize that the sheriff’s department program does not involve officers on campus — rather, they are notified when needed.

A graphic Lynbrook class of 2020 Nicole Ong made promoting her and Lee’s letter that Lee posted on his own social media. Photo courtesy of Nathan Lee

MVHS class of 2020 Nathan Lee was one of many students to attend this forum, because the topic of policing and its impact on people of color is very important to him. While Lee explains that he wasn’t happy with the answers he received at the event, he notes that it was heartwarming to see attendees at the forum voicing their concerns with FUHSD and its policing partnership and advocating for safer, more comfortable resources for all students. 

“I think that in order to get [our] changes through, we need to put constant pressure on administration and the police,” Lee said. “These community forums are a really good way for people to see what really matters. I really hope that [the panelists] actually listened to us and have the guts to dream of something bigger than what we already have. They keep telling us about creativity and thinking out of the box but I think they should learn that lesson and do it for themselves.” 

On July 16, Lee sent a letter to FUHSD calling for the end of its partnership with the police, which included anecdotes from students who had negative experiences or feelings about instances when police were on FUHSD campuses, as well as over 135 signatures from community members in support of the message. According to a PDF emailed from FUHSD Superintendent Polly Bove to the “Dear Cupertino” group, the policy pertaining to the role of SROs in FUHSD includes handling issues such as drug awareness, internet safety and traffic duty. Lee expresses that his letter advocates for more resources from specialized organizations and professionals to handle the aforementioned issues instead of having the SRO’s do so. This way, adequate support will be provided without the need for police presence on campuses.

During the forum, Bove mentioned that she echoes Lee’s sentiment, explaining that “there could always be more services for [FUHSD] students” and understands that the notion of “defunding the police” is to ensure providing other resources for the community and students. Regarding these resources, Bove stated that the district is “glad to be spending” over five million dollars in mental health services, and that because they only spend around $15,000-24,000 dollars for their policing programs, “transferring that money to mental health services would not be significant in the scope of the amount [they] already spend.”  

While Lee understands this, he notes that ending the policing partnership and diverting funding is important since it emphasizes standing in solidarity with minorities who may have been unfairly targeted by the police, citing an example of a WASC report on Homestead HS in 2018-2019, where the Hispanic student population was around 15% but made up around 44% of the suspension incidents.

“Yeah, 24,000 [dollars], isn’t that much, but I think it’s number one, a symbolic thing, standing in solidarity with [the] Black and Brown students who have been unfairly targeted by the police,” Lee said. “It’s symbolic —  it’s standing in solidarity and it’s a step towards the right direction of funding actual mental health professionals instead of getting cops to do whatever we don’t have the funding to do.”

According to Feng, in these forums, a common concern brought up by Cupertino residents was the 2016 “Kill List” incident at MVHS. This incident has recently resurfaced due to one of the alleged victims speaking up online about her view that the situation was improperly addressed and handled by the administration and the Sheriff’s Department. Being a MVHS alumni herself, Feng notes that acknowledging this incident is helpful in order to improve MVHS culture. She expresses that in addition to addressing policing on school campuses, understanding the omnipresence of technology among students and its consequences, such as cyber-bullying, are important for adults to consider when trying to create a safe environment for students. 

“If I think about the 2016 incident … I feel the combination of everybody this age growing up with technology being embedded in their lives gives us a sense of anonymity when we’re saying [negative] things,” Feng said. “I know we can connect [online] and figure out who [others] are, but [with] people just in a chat room, for example, it just feels like you’re not really facing anybody when you’re saying [negative] things. That’s created this weird social dilemma … [because] [students now] feel connected way differently [from] the way I felt connected [in high school]. Bridging that generational gap is important too to get common understanding.”

Regarding policing policies specifically, Feng explains that she did a full review of the sheriff’s contract both policy-wise and financially, and cross-referenced these contracts with the 8 Can’t Wait structure and the six pillars listed in 21st Century policing established in 2015. She adds that the Sheriff’s Department has since implemented these policies from the 21st Century policing guide and has continued to update these policies while current discussions take place. 

According to Clark, FUHSD is planning to have a similar forum in Sunnyvale and potentially San Jose. Clark emphasizes that it is very important for the district to understand the steps they can take to improve students’ comfort at school, as schools are made for students to learn in a safe environment. He expresses that administration across the district is trying to implement more restorative justice practices, so these forums are useful in providing feedback. 

“We definitely, as we have been speaking with both Sheriff’s Departments [in Sunnyvale and San Jose,] [have been] talking about ways we can make sure that the police, when they are called, [have] a positive interaction with students,” Clark said. “We just want to make sure that there’s nothing that makes [students] feel threatened.” 

Moving forward, Feng states that the city is planning to hold more internal forums and workshops focused on topics surrounding race relations such as microaggressions and implicit bias. Additionally, Feng is also considering holding small focus groups with people of varying age, race, backgrounds and viewpoints to have discussions about stereotypes, microaggressions and more, in a more comfortable environment as opposed to a webinar. She expresses that continuing to have these discussions can help community members empathize, connect and learn from one another in a productive manner.

“To be able to have one collective acceptance of a good and healthy culture for everybody, I think is the goal,” Feng said. “That’s not to say, oftentimes, people think that you shouldn’t have disagreements —  there’s gonna be disagreements. It’s the ability to talk through them in a way that both people are respected … We are built in being able to hear typically, it’s the listening that’s active —  listening and understanding. I think [that’s] really important.”