In a historic move, the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted Tuesday to transform its school police force, eliminating more than 100 positions and stationing the remaining officers off campus. In their place, new “school climate coaches” will de-escalate tense situations at the district’s 1,000 K-12 schools, part of a new $36.5 million investment in Black students and their academic success.
The vote in the nation’s second largest school district awarded millions more dollars to make the changes than the board pledged last summer, when the nation erupted in protest over the police killing of Black people, prompting reforms in cities across America.
Students, parents and activists lauded Tuesday’s unanimous vote.
“I am proud to see a door opening towards a bright future for me and my peers,” Emmanuel Karunwi, a student leader with the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition, announced in a news release.
Under the new rules approved Tuesday, Los Angeles school police will still be able to respond to campus emergencies when pandemic rules ease and students return to the now-mostly shuttered campuses. But they will primarily be responsible for patrolling schools’ perimeters, not the hallways, classrooms and common areas where students roam throughout the day. The plan bans the use of pepper spray on students at all Los Angeles Unified schools.
In support of the move, Kahlila Williams, a senior at Girls Academic Leadership Academy in the city’s Mid-City neighborhood and a leader with the advocacy group Students Deserve, said youth want more supportive services on campus, not a patrolling police force.
“We deserve to be able to get a high-quality education without being targeted or criminalized,” Williams said by phone at the remote school district meeting.
After decreasing its force by 133 staff, there will still be 377 police employed by the district, and they will now operate under a community-based policing model, Los Angeles School Police Chief Leslie Ramirez told the board and members of the public.
Ramirez cautioned, however, that with the staff reduction, three- to five-minute response times in the event of an emergency could be “wishful” thinking.
The school board members appeared not to be moved by fear for public safety at their meeting Tuesday, as they rejected an earlier proposal by Superintendent Austin Beutner that would have allowed some schools to retain a regular campus police presence under certain conditions.
“What we have heard from Black students is enough to merit this decision,” Kelly Gonez said of her vote against creating exceptions. “Our jobs are to serve the students.”
In July, under pressure from a coalition of students, parents, educators and labor organizers, Los Angeles Unified board members pledged to cut its school police budget by 35%, resulting in a $25 million savings. The school board also announced it would invest those funds in programs to improve the academic achievement of Black students, who are nearly three times more likely than other youth to have an interaction with school police.
Over the weekend, Superintendent Beutner provided details about a plan to support Black students that surpassed the original spending goal, allocating $36.5 million to provide psychiatric social workers, counselors, restorative justice advisers and other support staff at 53 schools with high numbers of Black students. His proposal also includes hiring new staff — who will be called school climate coaches — to address school discipline issues at all high schools.
“No person should feel the presence of a safety officer on a campus as an indictment of them or their character,” Beutner told school personnel and parents on Monday.