LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Activists, parents and students will speak out today in support of defunding the Los Angeles School Police Department while the Board of Education considers a variety of proposals for rethinking safety on school campuses.
A coalition including members of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other community organizations, parents and students plan to rally outside the district's headquarters where they will voice their support for total elimination of school police, arguing that Black students are disproportionately targeted for arrests.
“Now is the time to be bold and take action to defund school police. It's long overdue,'' said Sarah Djato, a student representing a group called Students Deserve, which conducted more than 5,500 surveys with respondents overwhelmingly stating police are not necessary in schools.
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner last week announced that a district-wide budget review this summer will include a deep look at school safety officers. He reiterated Monday that the issue is complex and requires consideration by a designated task force that he has appointed to report back to the board with its recommendations.
“Before one rushes to judgment on this issue, it is important to look carefully at the lived experience in schools in the communities we serve and remember school campuses must be safe for all members of the school community: students, staff and families,'' he said. “Those looking for a simple answer will be disappointed because it doesn't exist.''
Regardless of what the task force ultimately recommends, Beutner said “random wanding'' searches will stop as of July 1, and he is recommending the elimination of officers' use of pepper spray and carotid holds.
Pepper spray was used four times last year by officers at LAUSD, but Beutner said choke holds have not been used for as long as he can remember.
LAUSD police -- who are not part of the Los Angeles Police Department - - responded to more than 100,000 calls last year, including threats of mass shootings and bombs at schools, as well as robberies, sexual assaults, burglaries and other serious crimes, Beutner said.
“Black students are disproportionately represented in arrests, yet they are also disproportionately the victims of crimes in schools,'' the superintendent noted, although he did not share specific figures.
Activists who want school police banned on campuses reported that Black youth represent less than 9% of the district's student body but account for a quarter of all arrests, according to the Million Dollar Hoods Project at UCLA.
Of the Students Deserve survey respondents, 86% called for the defunding of school police, including 88% of Black students.
But different stakeholders do not agree on the issue, with teachers union leaders backing the elimination of school police, while unions representing principals and other workers express the opposite view.
UTLA and groups such as Students Deserve support Board of Education member Monica Garcia's proposal to cut the school police budget by 90% by 2024. Garcia's proposal is one of three motions up for discussion Tuesday, and advocates say it closely aligns with their ultimate goal -- total elimination of school police.
A separate proposal from board member Jackie Goldberg would establish a Reimagining School Safety Action Planning Group to be convened by the superintendent and comprising representatives from the superintendent's office, the student body, teachers or principals and parent appointees from the different LAUSD regions. The group would meet and make recommendations to the Board of Education no later than July 30, 2020.
Another option, proposed by board member George McKenna, directs the existing School Safety Task Force to convene an ad-hoc committee with representatives from the office of the superintendent, school police department, emergency services and health and human services. They would be joined by representatives of the student body as well as appointed community safety experts, parents and teachers or principals from each district. Their findings would be sent to the Board of Education no later than Aug. 31, 2020.
Independent of those options, Beutner said the complex issue requires further research by his appointed nine-member task force, which includes himself as well as educators, former public defenders and prosecutors, and public policy experts. The task force is meeting twice a week and plans to deliver a progress report and initial recommendations to the Board of Education sometime in August.
But advocates and students against police at schools -- many of whom rallied and marched in the downtown area last week -- argue that an LAUSD task force is not an adequate response, since they believe they already have the research to support a total ban on police in schools.
Joseph Williams, representing Students Deserve and BLM-LA, said public pressure for action is high. He said he wants to see change that has been needed for many years happen while there's momentum for it.
“Urgency is at an all-time high,'' he said. “Our lives matter. We shouldn't continue to be criminalized in this way.''
Melissa Mack, the mother of a 4-year-old about to go into kindergarten, said Black youth have a negative perception of police because of what they're seeing on television. She and others said it's not good for a child's psyche to see cops shooting Blacks on TV and then see them at the entrances of their schools.
“Let's stop policing our kids and let's start educating them,'' she said.
Beutner said what's most important is taking a much broader approach to addressing institutional racism in schools, going beyond that of the issue of school police.
“School police represent less than 1% of Los Angeles Unified's budget, and the 400 or so people in the department are an even much smaller fraction of the more than 75,000 employees in Los Angeles Unified,'' he said. “... This moment cannot be about more words and false promises. It has to be about real change based on logic, reason, thoughtful analysis and genuine engagement with all the stakeholders in the school community.''
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