WATSONVILLE—The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees will consider restoring its School Resource Officer (SRO) program, just over one year after they canceled it.
The trustees voted unanimously on Wednesday to discuss the issue during an emergency meeting on Sept. 15.
The meeting will also include a discussion of other safety measures such as adding a cell tower at Aptos High School to improve communication, trimming trees to increase visibility for security cameras and adding campus supervisors, PVUSD Superintendent Dr. Michelle Rodriguez says.
“Critical review of the incident has just begun,” she said.
The decision comes in the wake of a gang-related stabbing attack on the Aptos High campus on Aug. 31 that left a 17-year-old boy dead. Two students, 14 and 17, were arrested. Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said during a community forum on Sept. 2 that the two suspects were “gang-involved,” and that they will likely be held in Juvenile Hall while they await trial. District Attorney Jeff Rosell has filed the “appropriate charges” in the case, Hart says.
Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Michael McKinney declined to comment, saying that a judge has ordered the hearings to be confidential.
When the trustees canceled the SRO program in July 2020, they cited input from community members, who said that having a law enforcement official on campus intimidated some students.
They also say that a law enforcement response—rather than a socio-emotional one—was the wrong approach in dealing with at-risk students.
The item passed 5-2, with trustees Georgia Acosta and Daniel Dodge, Jr. dissenting.
Since the stabbing, many people have questioned the decision, saying that police presence could prevent some on-campus crimes.
“There is a perception of not feeling safe,” Hart said.
Hart says that, in the 22 years the SRO program existed at Aptos High, there was never a similar violent incident. He added that he supports socio-emotional support for students, but not at the expense of campus safety.
“I feel like it doesn’t have to be an either-or conversation,” Hart says. “It doesn’t have to be, do we go with socio-emotional support or do we go with campus safety? I think we can merge both of those things together.”
Students returned to campus on Sept. 3. A memorial for their slain classmate with several flowers, balloons and notes had formed at the entrance of the school on Freedom Boulevard. And on Sept. 5 the Watsonville Peace & Unity March and the Community Action Board (CAB) of Santa Cruz County held a vigil at Romo Park in downtown Watsonville. About 200 people showed up, and about a half-dozen speakers called for the end of gang violence, and additional mental health, pro-social and employment resources for the area’s young people.
“People are dealing with poverty. People are dealing with being hungry. People are dealing with housing insecurity,” CAB Executive Director Maria Elena De La Garza said. “And violence is a symptom of those root causes.”
The discussion on SROs is scheduled for Sept. 15 at 6pm at Lakeview Middle School. The location could change, however. Check pvusd.net/PVUSD for information.