Improving School Safety in LAUSD

Improving School Safety in LAUSD

BY

Umar Bavani
Ashleigh Washington

My name is Gloria Gonzalez, and I’m a youth organizer with The Youth Justice Coalition. The topic of random metal detector searches is extremely important to me as someone who has been searched and understands the impacts of being “randomly” searched from middle school through high school. Recently, support for ending this harmful policy came from somewhere unexpected.

Last week the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Blue Ribbon Panel on School Safety released its recommendations for how we can make schools safer. One of the panel’s recommendations is to end random searches in our schools while LAUSD undertakes an audit of the policy. I’m glad the panel listened to the many people who testified at hearings about how the policy disproportionality affects students of color and doesn’t make schools any safer. At one hearing, an eighth grader spoke about how random searches made her feel criminalized, and that all the time that is invested into random searches can go into more investment in the curriculum.

The two Blue Ribbon Panel hearings I attended this spring focused on bullying, counselors, school police, restorative justice, and mental health issues in schools. I truly took from these discussions that there aren’t a great deal of resources for LAUSD students, and many of the programs discussed don’t have evidence nor statistics about their programs empowering students or working successfully in schools. This is concerning because LAUSD public schools lack help for their students. Help that could save lives.

The Blue Ribbon Panel recognized the need for more support for young people and recommended LAUSD increase the number of school counselors, ensure every student on campus has a meaningful connection with an adult, and reinstate peer counseling programs.

According to the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report, LAUSD has one staffer providing services related to mental health for every 500 students. The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students. One panelist asked during a hearing, “What will fill the gap without the social worker or psychiatric person?”

The need for mentors, counselors, and peacebuilders is an urgent need. A peacebuilder is someone who was raised in the community where the school is located, teaches students how to handle the school atmosphere and home atmosphere, and builds a sustainable relationship with the student. They aren’t law enforcement. They are community members.

Gardena Hearing

At the School Safety hearing in Gardena, Dr. Judy Chiasson spoke about the anti-bullying program in LAUSD schools. She expressed her concerns about there not being data about the program’s effectiveness. “There is a gap in tracking students,” Dr. Chiasson said. “I’m not sure if they can screen every child, but we will look into linking children into services.”

As the discussion was wrapping up, I felt that what was missing was consideration of student voices and how they feel, what they benefited or gained from these programs, do they feel comfortable, and services they would like to be provided. Also, I want us to remember that these aren’t just statistics, and that the thousands of students in LAUSD schools, kindergarten through high school, aren’t just numbers. They are HUMAN LIVES!

There was an interesting comment made from one of the panelists stating, “Children of color are being suspended at a higher rate, are there any plans to assess children who have been suspended? These children have been through the most violence and trauma.” As a Latina woman of color that comes from South Central Los Angeles, I am all too familiar with trauma and violence.

The conversation on Restorative Justice (RJ) did bring up concerns. One contradictory part of RJ in schools is that school police can still get involved in the process and the student can still be detained. Chief of Los Angeles School Police Department Steven Zipperman made comments about the importance of school police in schools. This really makes RJ tricky because a circle is sacred, and students should be able to follow a process that doesn’t involve law enforcement, so that students can speak confidentially about the reasons that caused the incident. Another concern is that there sometimes isn’t enough time dedicated to the circle process to allow for both sides to heal and restore or transform the situations.

Final Session

During the final Blue Ribbon Panel hearing, the discussions moved towards finding solutions and recommendations that actually support students’ needs.

During the hearing, Chief Zipperman noted that, “81 Gang Unit Detectives currently patrol schools.”

Close your eyes and for ten seconds visualize 81 gang unit law enforcement officers patrolling schools K-12. We have enough money for surveillance, but we can’t invest into healing counselors and college counselors to solve our students’ root issues. Again, imagine 81 gang unit officers that are criminalizing our babies with their assumptions and perspectives.

I hope LAUSD listens to this Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations to end random searches, improve school climate, and increase the number of school counselors. We need tangible solutions to create real safety for students, not imprisonment or over surveilled schools. LAUSD must listen to the voices of the youth that are in these schools and communities, day in and day out.

In Solidarity,
Gloria Gonzalez

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