Dear Families of Board District 5,
On Tuesday night, the Board took the historic step of scaling back the presence of school police on our campuses and reimagining school safety. I, along with three of my colleagues, voted to reduce the school police budget by $25 million, approximately 37% of their total budget, and to redirect that money to support Black student achievement and hire psychiatric social workers, counselors, and safety aides first in schools with the highest concentration of Black students. My amendment also directs the Superintendent to explore working with the GRYD (Gang Reduction and Youth Development) Foundation and community-based organizations to ensure safety on our school campuses. And we took school police off-campus and out-of-uniform pending further recommendations from a task force the Superintendent set up on this issue. (The Superintendent had already taken action to prohibit the use of choke holds—which were not used—and pepper spray as tools for school police.)
This significant shift away from current practices—in keeping with the national conversation that has begun regarding public safety and institutional racism—happened because of the hundreds of students who came to the Board to tell us about their experiences.
We heard hours of public comments from students, parents, teachers, counselors, school police officers, and community members who shared their experiences and perspectives with us. Most of the speakers called for deep cuts to the school police budget. Many others, though, pointed to times when school police helped them in difficult situations and talked about their fears that our schools would be less safe without school police.
I know that there are many parents and some school employees who are unhappy with this outcome. I want to assure all of you in Board District 5 that my staff and I will continue to do everything in our power to prevent violence on campuses and to have an appropriate response if a violent situation occurs.
After hearing from many Black students about their negative experiences with school police, I was convinced that something had to change.
Still, this was not an easy vote for me. I have personally experienced incidents on school campuses where, as a school district, we cannot responsibly ask a counselor, teacher, parent volunteer, or even a campus security aide to intervene. And I have personally seen what happens when LAPD or the Sheriff’s Department is called to a campus in response to those dangerous incidents. They don’t necessarily leave when you ask them to leave. They often arrest students even if you don’t want them to do so. They are much more prone to using violence against students. For these reasons, I believe there is still an important place for school police in protecting our school communities.
Our schools need to be doing much more to support our students’ social-emotional well-being to prevent violence before it happens, rather than mainly focusing on responding to it after the fact. Right now we can keep our 279 school police officers for the serious violent situations for which they are truly needed, but we will scale back how much we currently depend on them and bring in others to ensure our schools are places where kids are safe and also feel safe, supported, and loved.
Ultimately, the Board action Tuesday night was a step in the larger effort to reimagine safety in our schools. I do not think of it as a victory. It will be a victory when we have that reimagined system of school safety in place. I wanted more of that planning in place before reducing the school police budget. This in fact was the resolution I proposed last week. But I couldn’t get to four votes, and I believed that the Board had to take decisive action.
The fact is, regardless of the professionalism or disposition of individual officers, policing in our country has long been one of the key expressions of institutional racism. School police are far, far better than LAPD or the LA County Sheriff’s Department, but they are a part of the larger system of policing in our country that disproportionally targets Black people. And that system of policing has been responsible for a seemingly endless cycle of incarceration and the horrific killings of unarmed Black men, women, and children—from Tamir Rice and Michael Brown to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The time has come for change. As a society, we must work to find new, more equitable ways to ensure public safety. And the school-to-prison pipeline must end.
We have time to work on this now especially because we do not have students in our schools at this time due to both summer break and the coronavirus. And I am eager for the Superintendent’s task force to engage seriously with the questions of whether we need a school police force at all, how large it needs to be if we do, and what alternate plans for school safety we can implement that do not involve school police.
I am confident that by the time our students do come back to a school campus, our plans for more supportive, preventative ways to ensure school safety will have taken shape. I am looking forward to working with the Superintendent, my colleagues on the Board, students, parents, staff, and community partners to make that happen.
There has been an enormous amount of debate about this issue and passions have run high all around, but I still believe all of us want the same thing, we just have different thoughts about how to get there. When we do get there, I have no doubt that our schools will be better for it. But now the real work begins.
Thank you for listening. I am honored, always, to represent you.