On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education announced a sweeping overhaul of school security, voting to fire 133 Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) members in favor of school “climate coaches”.
The decision to cut a third of the LASPD force will leave the school district with 211 LASPD officers to keep the peace at schools. The defunded LASPD funds will instead finance “climate coaches”, community members who will work with students to improve school receptivity and address racial bias. For LASPD officers who do stay on the force, the board also ruled that pepper spray could no longer be used against students.
In addition, the $25 million slashed from the LASPD budget last year will go to the Black Student Achievement Plan, a program that will hire more social workers, counselors, and professional development workers, introduce social justice and diversity into class curriculum, and bring a focus on math classes.
The plan for the overhaul has been in the works since last year following the growth of movements wanting to defund the police and bring social justice changes following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. The subsequent protests and riots culminated in many lawmakers and community leaders bringing about significant changes to local law enforcement, such as Los Angeles cutting $150 million from the LAPD budget in November 2020.
But calls for Los Angeles schools to follow suit, led by community and student activists, never materialized last year, partially due to continued COVID-19 related issues. Many were frustrated after other school districts in California, such as Oakland, voted to completely eliminate their school police force. But constant campaigning by the groups finally brought the plan to a vote on Tuesday, with board members overwhelming to vote in favor of the changes after nearly an hour of comments by students and parents.
“We would not be at this point, though it is delayed admittedly, without the community’s leadership,” LAUSD board President Kelly Gonez said on Tuesday. “I’m glad that the plan’s development also provided an opportunity for more engagement with our students, families and the broader community.”
Over half of LA public school students, parents in favor of police presence in schools
While many students and parents were supportive of the plan on Tuesday because of racial issues and the lack of black investment by the school district, many others supported the police and questioned who would protect the students at schools without the police being present.
And many cited a district-commissioned survey that found that over half of students and parents supported the police presence in schools. While only 35% of black students said that police made schools safer, 56% of Asian American and Pacific Islander students, 54% of Hispanic students, and 49% of white students supported the statement. Figures were even higher among parents, with 50% of Black parents, 72% of Asian American and Pacific Islander parents, 67% of Hispanic parents, and 54% of white parents agreeing that police made schools safer.
“The parents expect us to have safe schools. And if you think the police are the problem, I think you got a problem yourself,” explained board member George McKenna.
The LASPD was also largely against the boards decision, with LASPD Chief Leslie Ramirez warning that the reduction could bring a safety liability to the LAUSD.
“The LASPD’s commitment to remain focused on supporting the District and providing safety-related services that support student achievement and positive outcomes is paramount,” said Chief Ramirez on Tuesday. “We have already initiated our plans to implement a service model and deployment strategy that aligns with protecting our school communities based on reforms that limit on-campus uniform presence. Although LASPD was not part of the decision making relative to the new policy recommendations that were announced today, we feel the proposed policy language has potential liabilities, lacks clarity, and will result in unintended consequences impacting the safety of students and staff.”
Some teachers also spoke out against the board’s decision on Tuesday.
“They’re jeopardizing students lives by doing this,” one LAUSD teacher wrote to the Globe. “This is horrifying. Some is good, like more counselors. But removing police? Especially when some schools have a lot of crimes around them? It’s not great to say the least.”
The LAUSD changes are expected to be put into place later this year.