LA school board votes to overhaul police force, approves Black student investment

City News Service
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
LA school board votes to overhaul police force
The Los Angeles school board voted unanimously Tuesday to replace school police officers on campuses with staff trained in de-escalation strategies and conflict resolution.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Los Angeles school board voted unanimously Tuesday to replace school police officers on campuses with staff trained in de-escalation strategies and conflict resolution and approve a $36.5 million Black Student Achievement Plan.

The board voted to cut 133 school police positions -- 70 sworn employees, 62 non-sworn employees and one support staff member. The staff reductions reduce the school police department's annual budget from $77.5 million to $52.5 million.

Instead of officers, school climate coaches will be stationed at all secondary schools. Officers will remain on call to respond to emergencies and incidents on campuses with a goal of a three-to-five minute response time.

The school climate coach role will be to assist administrators and staff to support a safe and positive school culture and climate for all students and staff.

They will be trained to:

-- implement positive school culture and climate;

-- use social-emotional learning strategies to strengthen student engagement;

-- use de-escalation strategies and support conflict resolution;

-- build positive relationship and elevate student voices;

-- eliminate racial disproportionately in school discipline practices; and

-- understand and address implicit bias.

Individual schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will not be able to opt in to have officers stationed on campus. The ability to opt in was in the initial proposal, but was taken out through an amendment from board member Kelly Gonez.

"Our jobs are to serve students and if you're causing harm to a small group of students that is enough to address the action that is causing harm, even unintentionally causing harm,'' Gonez said.

During Tuesday's meeting, board members also approved a $36.5 million Black Student Achievement Plan, which will allocate:

-- $4.4 million for curriculum and instruction, including expanding diverse representation, inclusion of Black authors, and social justice connections;

-- $2.4 million for teacher professional development;

-- $2 million for school curriculum grants for schools to supplement their curriculum to make it more inclusive to Black students;

-- $2 million for community partnership to work with organizations that have demonstrated success with Black students;

-- $30.1 million for school climate and wellness to reduce over-identification of Black students in suspensions, discipline and other measures through targeted intervention;

-- $7.9 million for psychiatric social workers;

-- $7.6 million for counselors;

-- $2.9 million for school climate coaches;

-- $6.5 million for restorative justice advisors; and

-- $5.2 million for flexible climate grants.

Fifty-three schools have been identified as "targeted schools'' for the plan, including Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fairfax, Gardena, Hamilton, Narbonne, Venice and Westchester high schools.

The schools were identified because of their Black student enrollment, as well as several other factors including absence and suspension rates.

Joseph Williams, of Students Deserve Justice, said that while the school board did not vote on their "Reimagining Student Safety Proposal,'' the Black Student Achievement Plan was closer to their goals than the district's December version.

"There are so many things that we're advocating for as part of this plan and we're so happy to see that the superintendent has amended his proposal from what he proposed in December ... to actually center what students and community members have been asking for, and the resources in a targeted way that students and community members have been asking for,'' said Williams, who called into the board's meeting Tuesday.

Board members also voted to prohibit the Los Angeles School Police Department from using oleoresin capsicum spray, also known as pepper spray, on students.

Previously, they were allowed to use the riot control tactic on students for "self-defense or defending others from imminent threat or physical force of violence," according to previous guidelines.

The approved proposal includes the development of oversight and accountability committees, including:

-- the Black Student Achievement Steering Committee, which will develop and monitor strategies to improve achievement;

-- the Black Student Achievement Staff Working Group, which be made up of LAUSD staff and will oversee and evaluate initiatives; and

-- the Oversight and Accountability Team, which will be responsible for day-to-day monitoring.

"Obviously this is a big undertaking and required a lot of coordination, but I know we know and all believe that our Black students are certainly worth this effort,'' board member Kelly Gonez said during the meeting.

Student board member and Crenshaw High School STEMM Magnet senior Kamarie Brown said, "Believe in our Black students, invest in our Black students and show it today by passing this resolution end the war on Black students and to put LAUSD on a path based on principles of community and justice.''

"Police do not equal peace, police do not equal safety. On the contrary, police and the culture of policing that runs across the faculty and administrators is one of the longest standing contradictions of educating Black students at LAUSD," she said.

Board member George McKenna, who voiced opposition for the proposal but voted yes said, "If in fact, school police are unnecessary, who are you going to call when stuff hits the fan, and how do you measure that which was prevented and never occurred because the presence of a police officer was a prevention."

"The parents expect us to have safe schools, and if you think the police are the problem, I think you got a problem yourself," he added.

Prior to the vote, a survey was presented to board members which collected responses from more than 35,000 LAUSD high school students, 6,600 parents and 2,300 certified and classified staff members on high school campuses.

According to the survey, 51% of LAUSD students feel that having school police on campus makes the school safe, but only 35% of Black students said they felt it made the school safe.

A quarter of Black female students said they do not feel safe with school police on campus, the survey reported.

"They're very rude about how they handle people and detain them. They detained this young lady I know. She was a tomboy. Detained her like she was nothing. I mean slammed her and the whole nine. So, they are very rough, and they are not very respectful, and you complain, but it's like our school is slow or something because they are still there,'' a Black female student said in the survey.

Said another Black student: "I feel like a lot of times we are stereotyped by the school police and by the other admin like with those random backpack checks and stuff like that."

The survey also found a significant portion of parents and staff that opposed or were neutral regarding a potential, significant reduction of the school police department's budget by 90% over the next three years. Only 14% of parents and 23% of staff were in support.

Additionally, 63% of parents and 71% of staff supported the district engaging in a study of potential changes to ensure peaceful and safe campuses.

Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Monday a $200 million commitment to address achievement gaps among Black students and others in the district.

"We've been systematically failing Black children as a country. Schools must be part of the solution, because a great education is the most important part of the path out of poverty,'' Beutner said. "While we at L.A. Unified don't have all the answers, we're committed to making change."

Among the actions being taken by the district include spending $100 million to provide additional teachers to build a foundation for literacy, math and critical thinking skills among elementary school students.

Work is underway at individual schools to finalize the details, but Beutner said plans would be finished by next month, and incorporated into school budgets for the 2021-22 school year.