Posted on Sat, Mar. 25, 2006
GANG CONTRACTS DISCONTINUED
Salinas: Revision limits access to student records only when student is under criminal investigation
By GEORGE B. SANCHEZ
Herald Salinas BureauIn a dramatic reversal of policy, the Salinas Union High School District has stopped using its controversial anti-gang behavior contract.
The contract warns that school officials will formally identify students as gang members to police and probation officers if a student associates with gang members or engages in anti-social or criminal activity.
A district analysis of proposed gang policy revision, released Friday afternoon, states that "all administrators were advised to discontinue use of the gang contract and instead document gang-related behavior on a school 'referral' form" until the board of trustees completes its review of proposed gang policy revisions.
Two weeks ago, trustees questioned the district's gang policy, specifically cooperation with local law enforcement agencies and possible civil rights violations that could arise from such a union. The board agreed to review the district's gang policy at its meeting Tuesday in Salinas.
At the last board meeting, the only proposed change to the district's gang policy was a clause that stated if a student is observed engaging in gang-related behavior or showing signs of gang affiliation, school staff will notify the student's parent or guardian.
The entire policy has now been drastically overhauled and removes all references to the anti-gang behavior contract.
Though the contracts were developed nearly 30 years ago to combat gangs and gang recruiting on campus by warning students and parents of gang-like behavior, they can now be used in juvenile court and by probation officials, and can prompt gang enhancements if a young person is facing criminal charges. One of the contract's creators, Rudy Perez, has said the contracts were never meant to be used punitively against students.
At least 154 contracts have been signed by students currently in the Salinas Union High School District.
In place of anti-gang behavior contracts, district administrators will propose the use of a "warning of potential gang involvement."
Revision meticulously clear|
Instead of the gang contract's list of 16 behaviors considered gang-related, including things as innocuous as baggy pants and teenage slang, the new warning lists six points of concern, including gang-related tattoos and writing gang-related graffiti on walls, notebooks or buildings. But unlike the contract, the warning includes a blank space next to each point that can be used by administrators to write in concerns specific to the student.
The language of the policy's revision is meticulously careful and clear. In its introduction, it states the superintendent will exchange information with local law enforcement, but a new clause states that the superintendent can do so only "to the extent permitted by laws governing confidentiality of student records."
A 1997 law allows prosecutors and probation officers to obtain student records if the student is under criminal investigation.
The policy's provision on staff awareness and training substitutes the word "recognize" for "identify" in regard to observing suspected gangs and gang symbols.
The warning includes the clause: "Behavior that violates the District's rules of behavior, whether gang-related or not, will result in discipline up to and including expulsion. All suspected criminal activity will be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency."
Trustee Kathryn Ramirez said she thinks the clause of reporting to law enforcement should be removed.
"We're not the police," she said. "Just like we're not la migra (immigration)."
Superintendent Roger Anton could not be reached for a comment Friday afternoon, nor could Associate Superintendent Tim Vanoli or Scott McColgan, director of student personnel services.
Board President Art Gilbert said he had read the new policy Friday, but noted Tuesday's meeting is only a review session and that no action would be taken.
"I have to wait to hear what the other board members say," he said. "I really have no opinion right now."
Old questions not addressed|
Board Clerk Margaret Serna-Bonetti said since the last board meeting, she has researched, on her own, the district's gang policy and anti-gang behavior contracts and has spoken with attorneys about some of her concerns.
Bonetti said the district needs to develop a strategy to empower students, parents and teachers against gangs without profiling students as gang members.
Trustee Phil Tabera, who criticized the district's policy, said he had not read the proposed revisions.
"This is so vague. I cannot support this," said Ramirez. "This could be misused and we could lose some great kids. It's racial profiling at its worst. There's no oversight and there's no appeals process."
The policy revision, she said, does not address old questions, like the district's cooperation with law enforcement.
It also raises new questions.
"I don't know right now what these changes mean for the kids currently on the contract," Ramirez said. "I'm not saying I'm supporting gang members or gang activity, but I'm against violating students' civil rights.
I'm against a student signing something that can end up with the police. Every parent, regardless of race, should be concerned about this because this policy could affect every student."
Of the 154 students currently assigned a gang contract, all but five are Latino. While Latinos make up an overwhelming majority of the district -- 77 percent -- Latinos make up 97 percent of the students assigned a gang
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