LAUSD Board Considered Three Resolutions To Reform School Police. None Of Them Passed

Protestors hold up signs at a march to defund school police on Tuesday June 16, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

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After a marathon meeting that went well into the night, the L.A. Unified School District board was unable to pass any of three resolutions related to its school police department.

If it had passed, the resolution by board member Mónica García would have greatly reduced funding to the L.A. School Police — first by 50%, then by 75%, and eventually by 90%.

The other resolutions, by George McKenna and Jackie Goldberg, would have formed committees to look closely at school police policies. Goldberg's, as amended, also included a $20 million reduction in the school police budget, and other reforms like changing school police uniforms and moving where they are stationed on LAUSD campuses.

But none were able to gather the four vote majority needed to pass, revealing a fundamental split in the district's governing board.

And because none of them passed, for now, the district is left with a task force looking at school police, convened by Superintendent Austin Beutner, a far cry from the chants by advocates just outside of district headquarters to defund the department entirely.

On Wednesday, board members pledged to continue discussing school police reform.

"This is not the end," García said in a statement. "We own the responsibility of addressing systemic racism and classism head-on, and we need all of you with us to keep pushing to interrupt the system that does not serve all kids well."

HERE'S A BREAKDOWN OF WHAT HAPPENED

Tuesday's meeting, which began at 9 in the morning and adjourned almost 12 hours later, started with 90 minutes of public comment taken over the phone. At one point, there were 150 callers on the line; 56 addressed the board, and nearly all of them were in support of García's resolution to drastically reduce the $70 million L.A. School Police budget.

At the same time, the student-led organizing group Students Deserve gathered supporters of defunding the Los Angeles School Police outside of district headquarters.

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The backlash against the school police continued inside the boardroom.

"This is a continuous cycle that should end right here by voting to defund the police and placing more community schools in our neighborhoods," Djato told the board. "This cannot be our normal. Police walking on campuses with guns cannot be our normal."

After passionate comments like Djato's, in favor of removing school police from campuses, a wave of school police supporters and officers took the mic, some wearing shirts that said "I ❤️LASPD."

Some challenged the argument that pitted support for school police against support for students' mental health needs.

"In my personal opinion, social workers and police officers are the ultimate dream team in aiding and uplifting our communities," psychiatric social worker Samantha Camerano told the board. "Within this partnership, we assess students for suicidal and homicidal ideation, transport them to psychiatric hospitals if needed, and collaborate with school staff to meet the students social and emotional needs."

Their comments foreshadowed the board member discussion of the topic that would come much later.

Around 5:45 pm, more than eight hours into the meeting, the seven voting members of the LAUSD Board of Education started to discuss the three resolutions related to school police.

First, Superintendent Beutner and the three board members who authored the three very different approaches to school police each had 10 minutes to explain their positions to the board.

This is when things started to splinter.

A MARATHON DEBATE

For nearly three hours, board members picked apart the resolutions and the messages they were sending students, staff, administrators, and officers.

Three board members — president Richard Vladovic, George McKenna, and Scott Schmerelson — are all former principals. At different points, each cited experiences from their time leading school sites and said they informed their support for school police.

"Do you actually know what school police do every day," McKenna asked. "Because the notion that they are an intrusion, and that they are hindrance, that they are a threat — I don't think you really know what they do every day."

Unlike many other districts, which contract with local police and law enforcement agencies, LAUSD operates its own police department. It's one of the largest of its kind in the country, and according to the district, they are called more than 100,000 times a school year.

"I've seen them have to do some things that sometimes aren't pleasant," Vladovic said. "But I've also seen them protect children, and that's my one priority. And if anybody can convince all of us as a board, that by defunding them, we're gonna make children safer, then you've got to convince me."

Those comments echoed a message Beutner delivered on Monday in his weekly video address. Like McKenna, he urged a measured approach that includes more study of the school police force's role.

"Those who want to abolish school police must provide a reasoned answer how the threats of mass violence and incidences of serious crime will be handled at schools," he said. "And they need to explain to those who are in favor of school police why campuses will be safer in their absence. And those who think it's just fine the way things are must provide a reasoned answer to students who feel the stigma of an armed presence on campus."

McKenna's proposal, to form an ad-hoc committee to study school police practices, drew the most support from the Los Angeles School Police Association, and the most criticism from those who called for defunding. Notably, the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles — unlike the leadership of the teacher's union, United Teachers Los Angeles — came out in support of school police.

As for the other board members: Kelly Gonez said she saw Goldberg's proposal — somewhere between McKenna's and García's — as a step.

"The resolution as amended makes a commitment to reduce the LA school police budget immediately, not a year from now, and to pursue additional cuts and reforms," Gonez said.

Though she also said that she did not believe the board could commit to immediately shut down the school police "unless we have an alternative plan to ensure the legitimate safety issues that our schools face."

"We need to take the time to get this right," she said. "Critically to me, many of those in my school communities have not been able to weigh in on the serious question."

Board member Nick Melvoin said his mind wasn't made up, though he acknowledged that task forces alone aren't enough.

When presenting her resolution to greatly reduce school police funding, García expressed that she believes LASPD is the best school police department in the country and acknowledged the difficult decision in front of the board.

The LAUSD board, along with Superitendent Austin Beutner (lower center), debated three reolutions on school police during the board's June 23, 2020 meeting. All of the resolutions failed to gain the four votes needed to pass. (LAUSD screenshot)

"I have seen this organization interrupt structural racism and poverty, and I have seen us perpetuate it," García said. "And for that, I hold myself accountable. I ask you to join me in holding yourself accountable."

To pass, a resolution needed four yes votes from the seven voting members. At one point, it became obvious that none of the resolutions were going to receive four votes.

"If we don't do anything today doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything,"García said. "It means that we couldn't find a way to find a compromise enough that four or five, six or seven of us could agree. So I think that that's a shame."

There was some back and forth about the procedures, and around 8:30 p.m. — more than 11 hours after the meeting began — the members voted.

Here are the final tallies.

On Goldberg's resolution, which would have created a planning group, put into effect some reforms, and included an amendment added by Melvoin to cut school police funding by $20 million.

On George McKenna's resolution, which would have created an ad-hoc committee to consider "Los Angeles School Police officers' involvement in student and campus incidents and report where there is a need for guideline changes, additional training, and prevention measures":

And on García's resolution, which would have greatly reduced the $70 million school police budget and reallocated the money to high-needs students:

Frances Suavillo, the outgoing student board member, also voted yes in favor of García's resolution.

REACTIONS

The reactions from across the LAUSD community were, of course, varied. Here's a sampling:

Leslie Ramirez, deputy chief of the Los Angeles School Police Department:

We know these are hard decisions. Obviously from the discussions, there's a lot of things that have to be taken into consideration. What we do know is that all of our board members and our superintendent, they always have the best interest of our students, our staff and our families as priority. But that also includes the safety of our students, staff and our families. Although there was no one of the proposals that moved forward, we do know what that means at this point is that we're still a partner in the next steps that may come, and we look forward to working with our district to find out what will school policing look like.

Juan Flecha, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which came out in support of school police:

The passion that was shown by those wanting to defund the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD), and those advocating for it to remain, is the conduit to keep the conversation going without precluding officers the opportunity to feed and provide for their families.

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles is ready to lean in and participate in Superintendent Bueter's task force to ensure the lives of black students truly matter while strengthening relationships amongst all of us to improve school safety.

Let us seize this opportunity to heal, discuss, and take action to dismantle institutional racism and classicism.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, whose leadership expressed support for defunding school police and redirecting money to positions like counselors, who the union also represents:

It is unfortunate that the School Board did not take action yesterday. As cities and school districts across the country have taken swift action to replace police in schools with mental health staffing and trusted community aides to create real safety, it sends a troubling message to our youth in LA, especially our Black youth, that LA is caught up in inaction.

Sarah Djato, rising senior at Dorsey High School and youth leader with Students Deserve:

I am mad that L.A. Unified did not do anything about the ways that Black students are being policed. You have a Black youth-led movement, and you haven't made the time to truly understand our data or where we are coming from. We will make this happen, this is not the end. We pushed this campaign so far, it is not over.

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