Group seeks to ban school policing, adds counselors

On Tuesday, community and student activists reignited a campaign to eliminate the Los Angeles School Police Department, calling instead for the expansion of mental health and academic programs, college and career counseling and vocational and life skills training – with a particular focus on the needs of black students.

A call from a coalition of organizations puts renewed pressure on the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Alberto Carvalho, as he also faces tense labor negotiations and pushes forward his own costly agenda of academic advancement.

Meanwhile, a group of Latino parents spoke out in favor of school policing on Tuesday — a counterpoint to the message delivered passionately by about 150 protesters on the steps of Mann UCLA Community School in South Los Angeles.

“We’ve been fighting the school-to-jail pipeline for decades,” said Amir Whitaker, senior policy adviser with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “And this fight to remove the school police is part of it.”

School districts talk about helping traumatized students, he told those gathered, “yet we know that school policing is part of that trauma for so many students, for so many communities. … I represented students who get arrested for food fights or just other minor things that now put them on the path to criminalization, that changed the rest of their lives, that changed their whole life trajectory.

While the focus was on school policing, the coalition also proposed a program that, according to its own estimates, would cost more than $800 million a year. In this equation, redirecting school policing funding — about $52 million a year — would be like a down payment.

Among the items on the agenda: placing at least one school climate counselor and one nurse on each campus, providing academic and mental health counselors according to the ratios recommended by experts, and offering more “comprehensive” services in community schools to help families struggling with life’s challenges.

The recommendations, set out in a report released Tuesday, also include a call for $651 million for schools to hire local groups and partners to meet the needs.

The coalition supporting the demands includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Brothers Sons Selves Coalition, Community Coalition, Inner City Struggle, Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles, Students Deserve and United Teachers Los Angeles.

In 2020, the Los Angeles Board of Education cut school police funding by 35% and discontinued the position of one officer in every high school and college. These actions came in the wake of protests over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. But the council has resisted further cuts.

The report from coalition leaders and UCLA academics updates an action plan for the nation’s second-largest school system that was released about two years ago.

Unifying themes include the elimination of school policing and a focus on the needs of black students – justified, the authors say, by the nation’s history of racism and the school district’s own history of racist practices. , such as not providing a culturally relevant education to Black students or ensure that they benefit from academic opportunities comparable to those of other students. Chief among the racist policies, according to the report, is the existence of a school police service.

The report describes overwhelming support for his policies among students, parents, teachers and community members, based largely on focus groups convened from 200 participants at a town hall meeting.

Carvalho did not respond directly, but the school district released a statement.

“It is imperative to discuss the role of school police and other entities in the unified Los Angeles community,” the statement said. “We will continue to have this conversation with students, families, employees and community leaders to find the appropriate balance in schools. The basis of this conversation is to determine what services are provided to protect and support students, of which Los Angeles Unified has many.

The issue isn’t just with the school district, the statement said: “It’s a conversation in Los Angeles. We must ensure that all spaces occupied by students are safe. This means the streets they walk on are safe pathways, the parks our students play in are free of drugs and opioids, and the neighborhoods our students live in are safe and secure.

Carvalho’s school safety planning is complicated by a divided school board.

Board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin appeared at Tuesday’s rally and joined in the call for defunding school policing.

“You heard the voices that matter most: our youth, our families, our educators, our community partners,” Franklin said. “And now it’s time for the council to listen.

“We know our students need to be educated, not watched,” she added.

Two council members with experience as principals – George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson – supported keeping the police force.

In previous interviews and public appearances, Carvalho cited the district’s fall 2020 survey that indicated relatively strong support for school policing — but there were also large numbers of opinionated respondents. The survey included responses from 35,467 students in grades 10-12; 6,639 parents of high school students; and 2,348 secondary school staff.

About 53% of students said they felt safer when a school policeman was on campus; 13% answered no. About 52% said they believe the police treat students with respect; 9% answered no. Throughout the survey, many expressed no opinion or said they didn’t know.

Among black students, 35% said the presence of school police on campus made them feel safe, 20% said it did not make them feel safe, and 45% did not know or did not not answered.

Support for school policing was highest among school staff and even higher among parents.

In the first weeks of the school year, parents frequently told Carvalho of their support for the school police, and he agreed. The massacre of 21 people at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas was a major concern for many. At the time, he said, his security plan was imminent, but he has yet to release it.

Weeks later, after a Bernstein High School student died from a fentanyl overdose, Carvalho made it clear the response would include law enforcement, but said counseling, education, mental health support and other preventative measures would be equally important.

Meanwhile, the group Our Voice: Communities for Quality Education voiced support for school policing on Tuesday.

“Our Voice parents say that rather than feeling criminalized by school police, they and their children feel reassured to have officers on and around school campuses,” said the group’s statement, provided by the coordinator. Evelyn German. “Latinos make up 74% of families in the district, but their voices in conversations about politics and funding are often unknown.”

Los Angeles School Police Department Chief Steven Zipperman recently said school policing has evolved, especially in Los Angeles, to support the mission of education. Undercover officers are now part of counseling teams that provide support to students who have expressed thoughts of violence or suicide. Zipperman said the department has also adopted practices to limit arrests and keep students in school and out of the criminal justice system.

The coalition report acknowledged some improvement, but said it was entirely the result of outside pressure and was “not based on a moral decision on the part of LASPD to try to reduce harm to young people”.

Los Angeles Times

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