L.A. school board cuts its police force and diverts funds for Black student achievement
In a major overhaul of the Los Angeles School Police Department, the Board of Education on Tuesday approved a plan that cuts a third of its officers, bans the use of pepper spray on students and diverts funds from the department to improve the education of Black students.
The unanimous decision comes after a yearlong campaign by students activists and community members to reimagine the school police force, which they maintain disproportionately targets Black and Latino children. Their drive and recent calls to completely defund the school Police Department intensified following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, which forced cities and school districts across the country to consider how police use of force has disproportionately hurt Black Americans.
“We would not be at this point, though it is delayed admittedly, without the community’s leadership,” said board President Kelly Gonez. “I’m glad that the plan’s development also provided an opportunity for more engagement with our students, families and the broader community.”
The police overhaul by the Los Angeles Unified School District provides funding for school “climate coaches” who will work to promote positive school culture and address implicit bias at every secondary school. Staff to support and an achievement plan for Black students will also be added.
Board member George McKenna voiced strong concerns about it during the debate.
“The parents expect us to have safe schools. And if you think the police are the problem, I think you got a problem yourself,” McKenna said.
Board member Jackie Goldberg noted that officers would not be disappearing from campuses, but they would still monitor schools and could respond to emergencies.
L.A. Unified follows some other school districts that have reduced or eliminated school police departments. The Oakland Unified School District school board unanimously voted to eliminate its school Police Department in June. That month in Portland, Ore., the superintendent of public schools announced campuses would no longer have school resource officers regularly on campus.
A coalition of about 19 student activist and advocacy groups — including Black Lives Matter, the Community Coalition, InnerCity Struggle and the California Assn. of Black School Educators — praised the action that will bring about an $11.5-million effort to promote Black student achievement.
“This plan enacts a long-standing community demand for Counselors not Cops, and is a first step towards replacing school police with more effective strategies for student safety,” the organizations said in a statement. “This victory is a crucial step towards mitigating the years of disinvestment and ending the criminalization and over-policing of Black students and students of color in LAUSD.”
The approved plan will cut 133 positions: 70 sworn officers, 62 non-sworn officers and 1 support staff member. At the meeting, Chief Leslie Ramirez said the reduction would leave the force with 211 officers.
During 45 minutes of public comments at the meeting, many speakers expressed support for the plan. Many identified themselves as students affiliated with the group Students Deserve, which has advocated for defunding school police. Some students expressed frustration over how long it has taken to divert the funds to their Black peers since the school board announced the funding cut in June.
The school board and broader community have been divided on the issue.
A district-commissioned survey showed that students, parents and staff generally had positive views of school police, with more than half of those in each group saying they believe school police make campuses safe.
But when broken down by demographics, 35% of Black students agreed with that sentiment, compared with 56% of Asian American and Pacific Islander students, 54% of Latino students and 49% of white students.
A similar pattern occurred with parents, in which about 50% of Black parents agreed that school police made campuses safe, compared with 72% of Asian American and Pacific Islander parents, 67% of Latino parents and 54% of white parents.
Additionally, a quarter of Black female students said they did not feel safe with a school police officer present, the highest of all racial groups when broken down by gender. Twenty percent of Black male students also said they did not feel safe with an officer present. Black parents were also less likely to believe school police made campuses safe when compared with other racial and ethnic groups.
Attitudes about diverting school police funds were more mixed. About 2 in 5 students and parents support diverting funds from the school police to other resources for students. Nearly a quarter of parents oppose shifting funding.
Opposition to reducing funds increased among parents and staff members on high school campuses. When asked about gradually reducing the school police force, 43% of parents and 47% of staff were opposed. When asked about reducing the police budget by 90% over three years, parents and staff opposition increased to 49% and 56%, respectively.
Tuesday’s report noted that there was consensus among those surveyed that the department should not be entirely dismantled. McKenna, the only Black school board member, has expressed opposition to reducing school police officers on campus.
Overall, there was consensus among those surveyed for support in increasing funding for student resources in the form of additional staff such as psychiatric social workers and counselors, as well as expanding mentoring programs.
The report, conducted by the Los Angeles-based public opinion research firm Evitarus, surveyed 35,467 students in grades 10 through 12, 6,639 parents and 2,348 high school staff members in October and November.
A total of $36.5 million — with $25 million from diverted school police funds and the remaining $11.5 million from next school year’s general fund budget — will go toward investing in an achievement plan for Black students.
The bulk of the funding, $30.1 million, will go toward hiring school climate coaches and other support staff, such as school nurses and counselors. The coaches will be responsible for applying deescalation strategies for conflict resolution, eliminating racial disparities in school discipline practices and addressing implicit bias. The task force also identified 53 schools where more than 200 Black students are enrolled and are considered high needs to receive additional funding for staff, including a restorative justice advisor at each site.
Youth activists pushing for the change celebrated the decision.
“I am proud to see a door opening toward a bright future for me and my peers,” said Emmanuel Karunwi, a student leader with the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition. “I am glad to say that this win is a step toward a reality where the death of Black folks isn’t inevitable.”
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