San Leandro school board approves anti-gang classes for fifth-graders

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SAN LEANDRO (BCN) — The San Leandro Unified School District board of education has voted unanimously to approve a pilot program at two elementary schools that will teach fifth-graders about the dangers of gangs, violence and delinquency.

San Leandro police Lt. Robert McManus said the idea of the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program is for school police officers to develop positive and life-long relationships with students so they aren’t attracted to gangs.

He said police want to work with fifth-graders because “most people are who they will be by the age of 12” in terms of their core values and ethics, so it’s easier for police to have a positive influence on them than it is with older students.

The curriculum for the program, which will start at McKinley and Garfield elementary schools, was developed by the U.S. Department of Justice and already is being used by many schools around the country, including those in Oakland, Hayward and Newark in Alameda County, McManus said.

About 20 speakers from a group called Students And Families for Education (SAFE) opposed the program at the school board’s meeting on Tuesday night.

SAFE officials said in a statement that they oppose diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from school classrooms towards paying police officers’ salaries and the use of any school funds to pay for law enforcement.

Cynthia Chandler, a parent and co-founder of SAFE, said, “San Leandro schools have been under-funded for years, class sizes have gone from 20 students to 28, and school counselors have been practically eliminated.

The idea that we should be using limited resources to pay for police is simply outrageous.”

Mitch Huitema, a SAFE member who co-founded a volunteer-led math and science after-school program, said, “I am outraged that the school district is being asked to help fund police, and outraged that they would even consider providing this funding rather than funding the education of our children.”

But McManus said there’s no cost to the school district for the program because the Department of Justice pays for the training for the two school police officers who will teach the courses.

He said the pilot program will begin in January. If it is successful at McKinley and Garfield and is well accepted by the school district and the community, it will be expanded to other elementary schools later this school year.

McManus said the Police Department wanted to begin teaching the classes back in October but delayed them because of “a lot of parent and community opposition.”

The department “stepped back and vetted the process” and held two community meetings to address the community’s concerns, he said.

San Leandro Unified School District spokeswoman Carla Spain said the curriculum for the classes was reviewed by the school board’s drug alcohol tobacco education committee and its curriculum committee.

McManus said the program consists of six classes that are about 40 minutes long each.

He said the topics are decision-making, communication skills, recognizing and controlling anger, preventing bullying behavior, respecting others and being a great citizen in the community.

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