By Alysha Conner | Los Angeles Wave Newspaper
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles school officials have acknowledged the community’s call to defund the school police department and are now discussing what reinvesting in students will look like.
On Feb. 16, Los Angeles Unified School District school board voted to eliminate 133 positions from the Los Angeles School Police Department budget. The board also solidified plans to use the $25 million in savings from the school police budget to provide new educational opportunities for Black students.
“This initiative will go for as long as the movement stays active,” said Dranae Jones, an LAUSD educator. “It’s the movement that got us this win. It takes a coalition of absolutists who are advocating, calling, writing, standing in their faces over and over again.”
“This victory is an example of how we continue to perservere and can’t be broken,” said Sarah Djato, a youth leader for Students Deserve Coalition.
A 2013 report by Labor Community Strategy Center found that from 2011 to 2012, 93% of all LAUSD arrests and tickets went to Black and Latino students.
The majority of the tickets and arrests were for minor incidents that schools traditionally handled without criminalizing youth before on-campus law enforcement.
Incidents included skipping class, smoking, drinking, writing on desks or walls and fighting.
Under the district’s new initiative, officers will no longer be deployed on school grounds. but will be stationed nearby for quick responses to emergencies.
Days before the board’s vote, a coalition of Black students, parents, teachers and community organizers gathered together to draft a proposal.
Many of those same community members called into the Feb. 16 meeting to voice their concerns about institutional racism and urge school officials to focus on Black students’ success.
Twenty speakers were present, consisting of local teachers, social workers, mental health workers, community organizers, parents and student leaders.
Channing Martinez, the director of organizing at the Labor Community Strategy Center, spoke first.
“It’s about systemic reform,” Martinez said. “A police is a police, is a police, is a police. And that’s the same thing for LAUSD. It doesn’t matter if you give them training. They’re still police at the end of the day, and students are watching police inside the schools brutalizing students all over the nation right now.”
Jones, an educator at King Drew High School, was the third caller.
“I’m a social studies teacher, and my activism is my teaching,” Jones said. “It’s my job to teach students not just what the system is but how the system works and how to bang on that system.”
“The goal is to dismantle these systems of oppression, so we can all get free,” she added. “And I can’t say that in earnest if I’m not going to do something for my students. How can I say that I’m here to teach them how to bang on the system if I don’t go bang the system?”
Following the school board vote Feb. 16, the district released further details for its new Black Student Achievement Plan.
Most of the initiative’s funding will be to hire “climate coaches” to de-escalate secondary schools’ behavioral issues. The district plans to target schools that have high numbers of Black students and below-average proficiency in math and English, among other concerns.
“I was a counselor before I was a teacher,” Jones said. “Now is the time for us to break those generational curses. I think the children will do it if they’re given the freedom to do so. If we create that environment of safety for them, they’ll seek it out on their own, especially when a kid is having a meltdown. We should send them to [psychiatric social workers] instead of calling for a cop.”
“It’s going to take some time because there are some folks who can’t imagine a world without punishment,” Jones said. “As a student, I remember not having police officers on campus. I remember getting sent to the dean’s office for trivial things. If students are given opportunities to indulge in some healing and self-care, and they know it’s available, I think they’ll take it.”
The U.S. Department of Education reported that from 2015 to 2016, 14 million students were in schools throughout the country with police officers on campus but no counselors, nurses, psychologists or social workers.
LAUSD plans to allocate $100 million for new teachers, so more literacy, math, and critical thinking skills programs are available in elementary schools.
An additional $70 million will be given to the district’s highest-need schools to have more counselors and psychiatric social workers on staff.
“Our generation is embracing the fact that we have generational trauma,” said Djato, a senior at Dorsey High School. “We will probably be the generation that is going to work towards breaking that down and seeking help. And having that available in school is necessary. All students should have the option, but especially Black students.”
“The school-to-prison pipeline is real, and I think schools are a reflection of society,” Djato added. “The way schools can work to eliminate it is beginning with this initiative to defund the police. And it takes officials asking themselves questions like why Black students are failing at such a high rate.”
Data released by researchers at Stanford University showed that in 2018, LAUSD had a steady increase in Latino students’ test scores over the past decade. There were also improvements among white and Asian students.
Black students’ test scores lagged, however.
Superintendent Austin Beutner announced on Feb. 16 that LAUSD would, ultimately, be committing $200 million to close the Black achievement gap.
According to Beutner, “Much of this investment will happen in schools with the greatest concentration of Black students — about 50 schools.”
Targeted schools include Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fairfax, Gardena, Hamilton, Narbonne, Venice and Westchester high schools. The schools were identified because of their Black student enrollment, as well as several other factors including absence and suspension rates.
Joseph Williams, of Students Deserve Justice, said that while the school board did not vote on their “Reimagining Student Safety Proposal,” the Black Student Achievement Plan was closer to their goals than the district’s December version.
“This is the beginning of a reformation of an entire education system,” said Martinez, the community organizer. “Shifting both the curriculum and shifting the culture away from criminalization.”
“The board’s decision feels like a return on investment for the constant work that’s been going on for a long time,” said Amir Casimir, a youth leader from Students Deserve and Brothers Sons Selves Coalition. “It feels like a culmination of efforts that have gone on for years.”
LAUSD officials are still working to finalize the details of the Black Student Achievement Plan for individual schools.
Beutner said plans should be finished by next month and incorporated into school budgets for the 2021-22 school year.