More than half a year after voting to slash $25 million from its school police department, the Los Angeles Unified School District board will decide on Tuesday how to use that money to support Black students and promote safety on campus.
The board’s July vote to redirect more than a third of the budget for its 471-employee school police force came as the nation and world rose up in protest against the killing of George Floyd, and Los Angeles residents rallied outside the school board headquarters. The 4-3 decision temporarily barred uniformed school police officers from being assigned to patrol the district’s 1,386 K-12 campuses but provided few details on where the money saved would be spent.
Now, a coalition of students, parents, labor organizers, educators and community groups is pressing the district to target the $25 million at schools with the highest numbers of Black students, rates of student arrests, and those with the lowest levels of Black student achievement. Led by Students Deserve and Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, the coalition is calling for restorative justice coordinators, psychiatric social workers, counselors and “student safety coaches” in lieu of police officers at some schools.
Sierra Leone Anderson, a freshman at the Girls Academic Leadership Academy and member of the advocacy group Students Deserve, said these types of school staff would make school a much more positive place for Black students.
“In continuously choosing to fund, promote and prioritize cops over care, Black students like myself miss out on opportunities to grow, heal and to trust,” Anderson said at a news conference last week.
The coalition is also calling for the school board to invest in professional development and coaching to reduce the disproportionate share of Black students in Los Angeles Unified schools who are arrested and suspended. Black youth comprised 25% of Los Angeles School Police Department’s arrests, citations and diversions despite representing just 9% of the district’s population, according to 2018 research from the Million Dollar Hoods Project.
Community groups want to keep assigned school police officers off campus on a permanent basis, and to prevent individual schools from being able to opt out of any new policies.
Superintendent Austin Beutner’s approach – released over the weekend in advance of Tuesday’s meeting – is aligned with many of the advocates’ demands, but leaves open the possibility that some schools under certain conditions could retain campus patrols.
Beutner’s Black Student Achievement Plan would direct $36.5 million annually to 53 Los Angeles schools that have high numbers of Black students and which also meet certain indicators: low test scores, elevated rates of school discipline referrals and suspensions, and high rates of chronic absenteeism. The school district would also invest in psychiatric social workers, counselors and restorative justice advisors.
Under the district’s plan, the Los Angeles School Police Department would be cut by 133 positions, including 70 sworn officers. “School climate coaches,” at a cost of $12.8 million, would fill the gap left by police. Placed at all high schools in the district, the coaches would be drawn from the communities surrounding the schools and trained in de-escalation techniques. Their aim would be to
Over the past year, cities including Denver, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis have ejected police officers from schools, a movement that has accelerated in the wake of Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police late last spring. In June, the Oakland Unified School District board abolished its school police department and is working with advocates to create alternatives to school police.
The George Floyd District Safety Plan approved by Oakland’s board details when and how the city’s police department can respond to some emergency calls on school campuses, and calls for the creation of a new “culture and climate unit.”
“We want to see them as peacekeepers, loving and caring adults who are leading from a relationship-based perspective,” Jessica Black of the Black Organizing Project told The Imprint last year.
In Los Angeles, district officials are now agreeing with activists’ calls for years, to halt the use of pepper spray against students.
But unlike youth advocates who want campus police banished from all campuses, Beutner’s plan proposes a path for some schools to retain regular patrolling, if certain conditions are met and the superintendent signs off on the requests.
That part of the district’s plan could well face opposition at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“This is a moment when the world is cracked wide open,” Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and the parent of a student in the district, said at last week’s press conference. “And we can reimagine and build the kind of schools that our students truly deserve.”