LAUSD board votes down plan to defund school police, fails to agree on reform

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The Los Angeles Board of Education denied a plan to phase out funding for school police and failed to reach an agreement on any form of campus law enforcement reform after nearly 12 hours of discussion Tuesday.

Hundreds rallied outside the L.A. Unified School District’s headquarters in Westlake as the board debated a proposal by board member Monica Garcia to reduce the L.A. School Police Department’s budget by 50% starting in the 2021 school year, by 75% in 2022, and by 90% in 2023.

Two other, less far-reaching alternatives to Garcia’s plan for school police–one to analyze the issue and the other to ban the use of pepper spray, among other changes–were also introduced. But none of the resolutions could garner a majority of support, and the meeting adjourned without any reform achieved.

Garcia’s measure failed 5-2, while the two others failed 4-3.

LAUSD’s website describes the LASPD as the largest, independent school police department in the U.S. and the fifth-largest police department in L.A. County. It employs more than 410 sworn police officers, and, according to the L.A. Times, its funding currently accounts for $70 million of LAUSD’s $7.9 billion budget.

Garcia’s resolution asked for a transition plan for alternative safety and support strategies, with funds to be redirected to support African American students in schools deemed to have the highest need. 

“African American children in the District have been disproportionately impacted by the pervasive school to prison pipeline and discipline policies that have led to them being suspended, expelled, arrested, pushed out of schools, thus limiting their opportunities to benefit from the promise of a quality public education,” the proposal reads. “The District’s leadership, staff and Los Angeles School Police Department have made significant efforts to address education neglect and malpractice, yet in spite of this, racial disproportionality exists in student investment, achievement, and discipline.”

Outside LAUSD’s headquarters on Tuesday, people lined up ahead of the board’s 9 a.m. meeting. 

One of them was L.A. school police Sgt. Nestor Gonzalez, who said he had been camping out since the previous evening.

“We’ve been through budget issues before,” he said. “Changes [are] going to happen, but we want to be part of that change. It’s very important that we work together more than ever.”

Gonzalez agreed that LAUSD students need more resources.

“I’m a product of Los Angeles Unified School District,” he said. “I was born and raised here in the city. So this is a personal [issue] for me. I want my kids to be able to go meet with the counselor or dean to get some advice. All we’re asking for is for us to meet halfway.”

Later in the morning, the number of protesters holding “Black Lives Matter” signs grew outside.

Joseph Williams, who’s with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, argued that officials would spend school police funding in other ways “if we’re really about restorative justice and seeing our children, Black children, as human beings, worthy of care, worthy of love, worthy of support.”

Ana Minauri, a program director at Homies Unidos, said her organization has gang intervention members who work in communities to deescalate any violence.

“There are viable alternatives,” she said of policing in schools. 

Inside, the seven-member school board listened to public comments virtually and in-person.

While dozens of callers echoed the protesters’ demands, some offered support for the other proposal that called for a committee to study school policing and offer recommendations for the superintendent by August. 

One parent pushed against the elimination of officers, saying that she had to have one of her children removed from campus and only a school police officer “guaranteed his safety.”

“We do need school police,” she said. “I know thousands of other people agree that we need to support the police department.”

Another caller urged the board members to give “dedicated employees” affected by any changes the opportunity to transition into new roles. 

A woman who attended the board’s meeting in Westlake shared her experience as a recent graduate of an LAUSD high school. 

In an emotional speech, she described the psychological effect of students’ fear of on-campus police. 

“Do you want an accidental death like George Floyd? Do you want to see that on your campus?” she said. “The studies are already being done in our real lives.”

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