DAILY BRIEFING: August 26, 2021
Good morning. It's Thursday, August 26. Expect a mainly sunny sky today, with a high of 112 degrees. An excessive heat warning is still in place. First, some news you need to know ...
Data shows sizeable gap between Coachella Valley school districts' law enforcement referrals
As parents, law enforcement agencies, and elected officials grappled with the topic of armed law enforcement officers in Palm Springs Unified School District schools recently, a month-long review of relevant data by The Post shows students in the district are referred to law enforcement at levels far below the national average.
The same cannot be said at neighboring Desert Sands Unified School District, which not only had more than 3.5 times the referrals than PSUSD, but referred students at rates slightly greater than the national average. School administrators refer students to law enforcement officers when an issue may involve alleged criminal activity. A referral does not mean officers took any action or that charges were filed.
The latest complete set of nationwide data was reported by the U.S. Department of Education for the 2017-2018 school year. Locally, it shows the following:
There were 3.5 times more referrals in the DSUSD than PSUSD in the school year examined — 130 total versus 37, respectively.
That volume equates to a referrals-per-thousand figure of 1.6 in PSUSD (64 percent lower than the national average of 4.5), and 4.8 in DSUSD (6.5 percent higher than the national average).
The Desert Sands district accounts for 78 percent of the student law enforcement referrals in the Coachella Valley, while the Palm Springs district accounts for 20 percent, and Coachella Valley Unified accounts for just two percent.
Why the difference? The Post attempted to speak with representatives from Desert Sands, but was unsuccessful. Palm Springs Unified staff said it may just be a matter of how incidents that could lead to a referral are handled by everyone from teachers, students, administrators, and law enforcement officers who are part of School Resource Office (SRO) programs.
Under the PSUSD program, one armed officer is assigned during the school day to each high school in the district. Both city police and Riverside County sheriffs deputies fill the roles, depending on the location of the high school. An additional 45 unarmed campus safety officers work on more than two dozen PSUSD campuses across 214 square miles.
The new school year began on August 4, but PSUSD just this week reached a tentative agreement to bring officers back to campuses. The delay led to accusations by some parents and law enforcement leaders that the district was trying to “defund the police.” PSUSD officials denied those claims, stating that negotiations with four separate jurisdictions was simply taking longer than they hoped.
“Our biggest thing is we want to make sure any contracts we engage in could be done with fidelity,” said Levaughn Smart, executive director of security and disaster preparedness in the PSUSD, during a phone interview August 16. “We want to make sure we all have a contract that we could stand behind, and that we had a contract that is good for staff, and also good for students.”
To date, Smart said, he sees no evidence the SRO program should not continue in the district.
“The program in and of itself is about relationships,” Smart explained. “It’s easier on everybody if you make relationships with the students. The parents and the community kind of wrap around the students. It’s everybody working together.”
Avoiding a referral is difficult, but not impossible. Weapons possession in PSUSD schools is a rare occurrence, a spokesperson said. And when weapons are brought to campus, the culture of trust that officers have built at schools helps prevent potential violence.
“Any situation with a weapon was averted specifically because there was a kid who had a relationship with a SRO or one of our security officers on campus and felt comfortable going to that person and telling them confidentially,” said Joan Boiko, coordinator of communications and community outreach. “That’s just something that doesn’t happen automatically.”
District administrators’ hands are tied, however, when drugs and alcohol are involved. Marijuana vape pens are especially popular, Smart said, but also especially difficult to deal with.
“We’re not chemists,” he noted. “So we don’t have a way to dispose of those … . Alcohol and drugs are not something we can deal with. We’ve had kids come to school drunk and try to get into a car. Something where they are putting themselves in jeopardy we have to have SRO intervene.”
Data supplied by PSUSD to The Post for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years shows volumes similar to the 2017-2018 school year, with referrals-per-thousand rates averaging 1.85 — roughly 60 percent below the national average. During the past four school years, Rancho Mirage High School had four times more referrals (45 total) than any other school in the district. The next closest was Desert Hot Springs High School, with a total of 14.
Who are the students being referred to law enforcement? In both PSUSD and DSUSD, where Hispanic students comprise an average of 76 percent of the student population, they comprise the single largest group of referrals. The data from 2017-2018 shows:
A total of 100 Hispanic students were referred to police between the two districts, equaling a referrals-per-thousand figure of 2.0 — 52 percent less than the national average for Hispanic students. They were 56 percent of the total referrals.
A total of 20 white students were referred to police between the two districts, equaling a referrals-per-thousand figure of 0.4 — 88 percent less than the national average for white students. They were 11 percent of the total referrals and comprise an average of 13.5 percent of the student population.
Taken as a percentage of the student population versus the percentage of referrals, there is some evidence of inequity for Black students and those with disabilities in the two districts. The data can be misleading, however, without additional context.
For example, students with disabilities — including those with developmental disorders and mental health issues — and Black students are referred to law enforcement at higher percentages than their portion of the student population at some Valley schools. The largest differences are found at Rancho Mirage High School, Raymond Cree Middle School, and Indio Middle School.
By volume, however, those schools referred an average of only three total Black students and students with disabilities during the school year examined. In addition, specialized programs for students with disabilities are sometimes concentrated at a single school site. That is the case at Raymond Cree Middle School, which hosts the Therapeutic Education Program (TEP) for all district middle schools.
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OUTDOOR MOVIES: Gre Coffeehouse and Art Gallery, located at 278 N. Palm Canyon Dr., and The Palm Springs Film Festival Shortfest have rescheduled a free outdoor screening of several short films tonight. The screenings were originally slated for March 2020. The event will feature music-themed short films from around the world, as well as lots of coffee. Included in the lineup will be Mixtape Marauders, The Velvet Underground Played At My High School, Snare, Death Metal Grandma, Nefta Football Club, La Espiga, The Music Lesson, and The Heights. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own seating and advised that masks are required indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test is required to sit in the coffee shop.
VACCINATION RULES, CLINIC: Vaccination requirements approved by the Palm Springs City Council earlier this month go into full effect today in city restaurants and bars. Under the rules, patrons are required to show proof of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test for the virus from the past 72 hours. Enforcement is up to individual businesses. To aid in the efforts to vaccinate more people in the city, Roly China Fusion, located at 1107 N. Palm Canyon Dr., is offering a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic today from 10 AM to 6 PM. Both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available. The Pfizer vaccine is for individuals ages 12 and older, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available for those ages 18 and older. To register for the Pfizer vaccine, visit this site. To register for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, visit this site.
NEW SEASON AT PALM CANYON: Individual tickets and season packages are now on sale for the Palm Canyon Theatre’s 25th anniversary season. Palm Canyon Theatre, at 538 N. Palm Canyon Dr., is the city’s oldest source of live theatrical entertainment and runs Broadway favorites and classic stage productions from September to July. Tickets prices start at $15. Season packages start at $100. Box office hours are currently Monday through Friday, 10 AM until 4 PM. For more information, call 760-323-5123 or visit www.PalmCanyonTheatre.org.
SCHOOL COVID: As of this morning, the Palm Springs Unified School District is reporting 104 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff. Schools in Palm Springs account for 21 of those cases, including 19 cases among students and two among staff. The most cases in any city school were reported at Palm Springs High School, where 11 students and no staff members are reportedly infected.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers exercise classes, informational programs and other events for members today, starting at 8 AM. Among the offerings is a movie titled Wild Oats, starting at 10:30 AM in the Noia Auditorium. Today’s complete schedule can be found here.
HOUSING WORKGROUP: The city’s Inclusionary Housing Workgroup meets today at 10 AM via Zoom. A complete agenda, as well as participation information, can be found here.
STORY TIME: The Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, offers story time for preschoolers starting at 10:30 AM in the youth story room. Librarian Nancy Valdivia reads stories, sings songs and shows early learning concepts (Wednesdays in Spanish and Thursdays in English). You can find more information here, and watch the YouTube videos here.
PRESERVATION BOARD: The city’s Historic Site Preservation Board meets today at 2 PM via Zoom. A complete agenda, as well as participation information, can be found here.
NOT TEEN TALK: The Palm Springs Public Library’s teen librarian hosts an Instagram Live session each Thursday at 3:30 PM. To follow along, follow @psplteenzone on Instagram here.
FOOD AVAILABLE: FIND Food Bank distributes food in the city today at multiple locations. From 4 PM until 6 PM, food will be available at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. Food is also distributed today from 5 PM until 6:30 PM at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center, 480 W. Tram View Rd. Every Thursday, food is available at the community food bank, 610 S. Belardo Rd., between 5 PM and 7 PM. A complete calendar of food distribution in the community this month is available here.
FREE MUSEUM ADMISSION: The Palm Springs Art Museum offers free admission from 5 PM to 7 PM this evening. Tickets are required and can be obtained here.
VILLAGEFEST: The city’s weekly outdoor street fair takes place at 7 PM on Palm Canyon Drive between Amado Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way. The event includes vendor booths on both sides of the street, which is closed to vehicular traffic. At this time, face coverings are required for all who attend, regardless of vaccination status.
VOTING OPEN: Our partners at The Coachella Valley Independent have started the process of determining the best of the best in the Coachella Valley for 2021-2022 and need your help. Nominations are currently being accepted via fill-in-the-blank voting through September 13. After that, the top vote-getters in each category move on to the final round of voting, and winners are announced on November 22. To nominate a business or person in any one of multiple categories, start here.
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