Group seeks to ban school police, add counselors

Community and student activists Tuesday restarted a campaign to eliminate the Los Angeles School Police Department, instead calling for an expansion of mental health and academic programs, college and career counseling, and job and life skills training — with a particular focus on the needs of black people Students.

Call from coalition of organizations puts renewed pressure on Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Alberto Carvalho, who also faces strained labor negotiations and pushes his own expensive academic advancement agenda.

Meanwhile, Tuesday, a group of Latino parents spoke out in support of school police — a counterpoint to the message conveyed with passion by about 150 protesters on the steps of Mann UCLA Community School in south Los Angeles.

“We’ve been fighting the school-to-prison pipeline for decades,” said Amir Whitaker, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “And this fight to get the school police removed is part of that.”

School districts talk about helping students with trauma, he told those gathered, “but we know that school police are part of that trauma for so many students and for so many communities. … I have represented students who have been arrested for food fights or other small things that are now putting them down the path of criminalization that have changed the rest of their lives, have changed their entire life path.”

While the focus was on school policing, the coalition also proposed an agenda that it estimated would cost more than $800 million a year. In this equation, diverting funds for school police — about $52 million a year — would be like a down payment.

Agenda items include: placing at least one school climate counselor and nurse on each campus, providing college and mental health counselors in peer-recommended ratios, and offering more “whole-round” services at community schools to help families with life challenges .

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

The coalition backing 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 stopped stationing an officer at every high school and middle school. These actions followed protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. But the board has opposed further cuts.

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

Unifying themes include the elimination of school police 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 B. the lack of culturally relevant education for Black students or ensure they receive academic opportunities that are comparable to other students. The main racist policy, the report found, is the existence of a school police department.

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

Carvalho didn’t respond directly, but the school district issued a statement.

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

The issue isn’t unique to the school district, the statement said: “This is a conversation in Los Angeles. We need to ensure that all rooms that students are in are safe. This means the streets they walk on are safe pathways, the parks our students play in are drug and opioid free, and the neighborhoods our students live in are safe and secure.

Carvalho’s school safety planning is complicated by a split education council.

Board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin appeared at Tuesday’s rally and joined the call to defund school police.

“You’ve heard from the voices that matter most: our young people, our families, our educators, our partners in the community,” Franklin said. “And now it’s time for the board to listen.

“We know our students need to be nurtured, not supervised,” she added.

Two board members with experience as principals – George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson – have spoken out in favor of keeping the police force.

In previous interviews and public appearances, Carvalho has cited the district’s fall 2020 poll, which indicated relatively strong support for school police — but there were also large numbers of respondents who did not have strong opinions. The survey included responses from 35,467 students in grades 10-12; 6,639 parents of high school students; and 2,348 high school staff.

About 53% of students said they feel safer when there is a school police officer on campus; 13% said they didn’t. About 52% said they believe the police treat students with respect; 9% said they don’t. 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 respond.

Support for the school police was higher among school staff and even higher among parents.

During the first few weeks of the school year, parents frequently emphasized their support for the school police to Carvalho, and he agreed. The massacre of 21 people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas touched the hearts of many. At the time, he said his security plan was imminent, but he has yet to release it.

Weeks later, after the death of a Bernstein High School student 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 were just as important.

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

“Our Voice parents say that they and their children do not feel criminalized by school police, but feel reassured to have officers on and around school grounds,” read the group’s statement, provided by coordinator Evelyn Aleman . “Latinos make up 74% of the district’s families, yet their voices are often unheard in conversations about politics and funding.”

Los Angeles School Police Chief Steven Zipperman recently said that school police, particularly in LA, have evolved to support the mission of education. Plainclothes officers have become part of advisory teams that support students who have expressed thoughts of violence or suicide. Zipperman said the department has also instituted practices to limit arrests and keep students out of school and out of the criminal justice system.

The coalition’s report acknowledged some improvements but said it was entirely due to outside pressure and “was not based on a moral decision on behalf of the LASPD to try to reduce harm to youth”. Group seeks to ban school police, add counselors

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