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Activists confront school board on student treatment

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

By Cameron Macdonald Citizen News Editor

Parents and activists on May 15 confronted the Elk Grove school board about how students were treated by law enforcement officers at Cosumnes Oaks High School.

They accused officials of failing to change how campus officers handle students – many noted that the students are African American. A few speakers also threatened a boycott of the school district.

“Do we have to get radical for you to hear us?” activist Allegra Taylor said. “Do we really have to pull our children out of your schools?”

The school board did not take action on May 15 since the issues were brought up during their meeting’s public comment period.

Many speakers that night addressed an incident where Julian Cannon, a Cosumnes Oaks High School student, was accused of stealing earbuds during a class.  

His mother, Lezlie, said that three law enforcement officers pressured her son to sign a citizen’s arrest form and they refused to allow him to contact her.

“I feel like that’s an issue and that should be fixed,” Julian told board members.

Most of the Elk Grove school district’s school resource officers are deputies on contract from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

Julian and Lezlie later met with the school resource officer who confronted Julian and they described his behavior to the school board. She said that he “stormed” out of the meeting when Lezlie questioned him about why her son was not allowed to call her.

“He was very hostile, every time we go to speak and we spoke the truth, he continued to interrupt,” Lezlie recalled.

Lorreen Pryor, the president of the Black Youth Leadership Project, said that she joined the Cannon's during that meeting.

“What I observed is that you had somebody in your schools that does not like children,” she said.

Pryor called upon the school board to implement district policies on how school resource officers should treat students.

“They are children, they are not criminals,” she said.

Mechale Murphy, the principal of Zehnder Ranch Elementary School, returned to speak about her son to the school board. Last November, she told them that her son was unfairly treated by law enforcement for committing “low-level misconduct” at Cosumnes Oaks High School. She said that one officer lifted her son out of a chair and threw him across a desk in a vice principal’s office there. Her son was then transferred to Elk Grove High School.

Murphy on May 15 told board members that she filed a uniform complaint to the California Department of Education regarding her son. She said that state officials agreed that Elk Grove school district staff did not properly investigate her son’s case.

Murphy added that the sheriff’s department never received the case for investigation.

Robert Oakes, an education department spokesperson, declined to release documents on Murphy’s compliant to the Citizen since the case is still under investigation.  

Murphy also shared her concern for the treatment of African American students in the school district.

“Misconceptions are being spread about African American males being in gangs in an effort to justify their mistreatment,” she said.

Board President Nancy Chaires Espinoza said that her board will review a proposed district policy on student discipline cases next month.

Concerns about the treatment of African American students at Elk Grove Unified’s schools were raised at previous school board meetings and at a large community forum this January.  The January meeting was sparked by outrage following an incident where a Pleasant Grove High School student posted online videos of her making bigoted remarks about African Americans. A Pleasant Grove student soon drew public attention when she told the Sacramento Bee about racist incidents at her school and off-campus in Elk Grove.

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