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LAUSD Board: What Rocío Rivas — Running For District 2 — Would Do If Elected

A brown-skinned woman wearing a pinkest-red sweater sits in a chair, speaking into a microphone.
Rocío Rivas is running for the open seat in Los Angeles Unified's board district 2.
(Ryanne Mena
/
LAist)

Rocío Rivas works for current L.A. Unified School Board member Jackie Goldberg, who represents District 5. Now, Rivas — a district parent and former education policy researcher — is running for an LAUSD board seat of her own in neighboring District 2.

Rivas and her opponent, María Brenes, both recently sat down for interviews with LAist.

Highlights

See Rivas’ full responses in the transcript below.

  • On Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s job performance: Rivas says that Carvalho is still introducing himself to the district, but she appreciates that “he's really diving into low-performing schools” where learning difficulties have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. She says she’s waiting to see whether he meets her high expectations, especially as union negotiations proceed: “I'm expecting him to really give what the teachers deserve, right? They need higher salaries, they're struggling themselves.”
  • On students who’ve fallen behind academically: While Rivas sees tutoring as a useful tool, she says the district should focus on pandemic-related mental health and trauma: “If you try getting an appointment with a psychiatric healthcare practitioner, you have to wait at least three months, and then for a follow up, another three months.” She wants the district to improve outreach to families and children, saying that if students are depressed, stressed, or insecure in their housing or food, “they need to feel like they're loved again, rather than like, let's get back to what's two plus two.” Rivas says this kind of work can be done by improving communication within the district, and between the district and Board of Supervisors.
  • On LAUSD’s enrollment decline: The district has a lot to offer, Rivas says, and needs to market it better: dual-language programs, magnet schools, and career pathways programs. The expansion of universal transitional kindergarten, plus adult education offerings, both increase the enrollment pool. But the district has the potential to offer a lot more, she adds: enrichment programs, arts programs, and especially: green space and facilities improvements. “I would say 90% [of schools] are just asphalt and pavement and hot. … Our air conditioners are always failing, cabinet doors are falling … the district says, ‘well, that's going to cost you $10,000 to change three doors.’ Those are the things that drive parents away.”
  • On LAUSD’s budget: Rivas looks at the falling district budget and sees decreased support from from the federal and state governments, but also decades of consequences from Proposition 13, which hamstrings the kind of property tax increases that could increase school funding. “There's just been a depletion of public expenditures, government expenditures into our schools, into our public health systems, into everything that helps the communities.” Even so, she says, school closures shouldn’t be seen as inevitable. If closures do need to happen, she says to start with low-performing charter schools.
  • On charter schools: Rivas says her job as a board member would be to represent all students, whether in district-run schools or charters, but that also means holding both accountable. She adds that charter schools should be demonstrating that they’re fundamentally better than district-run schools.
  • On school police: “I am pretty much against all police in our schools. … For the district to be spending funds that should be going to our students and using it for law enforcement, I think that's just going backwards.” While Rivas wants schools to feel and be secure, she says she struggles to reconcile the funding of school police with the realities of the school-to-prison pipeline.
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ALSO: Read our Q&A with Rivas’ opponent in the LAUSD Board District 2 race, María Brenes.

District 2 Map

LAUSD board district 2 is shown in white, reaching the border of Monterey Park to the east.
(Courtesy LAUSD)

For more on this and other races on your ballot in Southern California, check out Voter Game Plan.


This live, virtual event took place on October 11, 2022 and featured candidates María Brenes and Rocío Rivas.


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Kyle Stokes, who covers K-12 for LAist, asked the questions.

The Superintendent's Job Performance

The school board's most important job is to hire and fire a superintendent and to evaluate his or her job performance. So how well do you think that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is doing?
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Rocío Rivas: You know, he's not been here a year yet. I know he's been introducing himself to the community and who he is as a persona. He's really diving into low-performing schools, which is something that I really applaud, because we really need to pay attention to the schools with the highest needs, the schools that are test-wise are not— and I think that's the vast majority of our schools, there's been a struggle in the SBAC [state test] scores because of the pandemic and because of whatever all of our communities have been facing.

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I'm expecting good things from him. I'm expecting him to really listen to the community. I'm expecting him to really give what the teachers deserve. They need higher salaries, they're struggling themselves. Right now I'm waiting with those expectations to see if they're being met because he's in the process of negotiating.

I'm sure there are a lot of people in your base — you were endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) —  who think that he's slow-walking these negotiations, not being as generous in offers as they would want.

Well, I want them to continue fighting and to continue negotiating. I don't think it's over. It's a first offer. Obviously he has to present something. Then, if it doesn't go well with our teachers and our educators, then we have to go back to the table and come back and say, ‘This is not enough. This is what I want.’

What is better for our teachers is also better for the students and also better for the district. It's all interconnected.
— Rocío Rivas, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

If our teachers are in the classrooms and they know that they can pay their mortgage, they know they can pay the tuition for their children, they know they can take care of their parents — a lot of our teachers also come for multi-generational homes — if they can be in their classroom, dedicated 100% to our students, knowing that the district is paying them what they deserve and is providing for the students and is providing for their schools, then our students are going to come out winning. This is what it's all about.

What is better for our teachers is also better for the students and also better for the district. It's all interconnected.

Improving Student Learning

You brought up Superintendent Carvalho's response to LAUSD’s standardized test scores. The district released topline results of its Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) results, and as many expected, the SBAC scores went down in the district. It's another bad omen for what might be to come from the statewide release of numbers. Whatever you call this issue — “learning loss, interrupted learning, pandemic slide” — how urgent of a problem is it, and what do you think LAUSD should do about it?

What we have to do is regain the community within our schools. We have to really address issues of mental health and trauma. There's grieving that a lot of our students came back to our schools. All of that is impacting our classrooms. Supports for mental health are very scarce. If you try getting an appointment with a psychiatric healthcare practitioner, you have to wait at least three months, and then for a follow up, another three months. That system has to be addressed.

What I've seen in our schools as I'm speaking to principals and administrators: Students are having high anxiety. Students are coming in with high stress. Every time I go and visit a school, there will be a child — ”Oh, we're working with him because he's having a moment.”

And that's what the SBAC scores are telling us, that we're pushing all our educators in our school community back into being normal, pushing them back into testing without really checking up here, because that stress is impacting them. There's evictions coming back up. Families are distressed. Kids are coming to us from those families.

And let us not forget that 80% of LAUSD students are low socio-economic status — those are the children that are the most marginalized, and those are the children whose families were greatly impacted.

We need to have more community time. Let's check in on our families. Let's check in on our kids and make sure we have full-time psychiatric care. If we don't have it, let's create a program to get it. If there isn't a moment now to really fix our institutions and our infrastructure, particularly with mental health, then we're going to fail and we're going to continue seeing these SBAC scores.

Is the key to reversing the declines in those test scores as simple as implementing those mental health services? If it's not, then what's the remedy to turn them around?

I think we need to go and really go at the school level and talk to our teachers and say, what are you encountering with your students? “This is what I'm seeing. My students need this.” Say, for instance, I have a family who doesn't have any food — they need to be connected. So we need to get back to the grassroots and find out, OK, what is it that the district is not doing that really is going to impact them?

Yes, we brought in tutoring, but maybe we need to do different types of tutoring. But apart from that, we need to have individuals within our schools that are connecting to our families and then taking that data back to the district and saying, “This is what I'm seeing, there's a pattern.” And then these are the services that we need to go get through the state, the city, the county, so we can address this need in our schools.

It has to be ingrained within the institution and within the ideology that is being driven not only from the principal, but all the way down to the community representative. You know what I mean? It has to be something that's holistic within each school.

You brought up high dosage tutoring. That's supposed to be one of the main strategies to address academic gaps. What I heard from you was, “Yes, high dosage tutoring, but…” and then discussed additional wraparound services students might need. Should I read into your phrasing there? Do you doubt that high dosage tutoring is an effective strategy?

I think it's essential to have tutoring. Yes, it helps so many students, but I don't think it is the sole instrument or tool in addressing the learning loss. I think the learning loss has to be done with a teacher, one on one, building that relationship in the classroom. Once you leave the classroom, it changes for that student. They may not be as focused. They've been in classrooms all day. There's family dynamics, there’s dinners, there are so many other family factors and elements that really affect how efficient that tutoring is going to be to that student.

We have to find other things that can help inside the classroom. Or maybe going to their house on a Saturday or on a Sunday where we're there in a one-on-one and we're helping the students. And we have to focus on the students are really below basic — who need help with foundational skills. Because once they hit middle school and high school, and if you don't hit those foundational educational standards and what they need, it's going to be really hard to get them at middle school and high school. And that's been proven.

Yeah. It's interesting you say, ‘Go to the lowest-performing students.’ If you want to raise your test scores, the incentive is for schools to focus on the kids who are “on the bubble” — right on the cusp of passing.

And then these students who are further below standard are lost. They're the ones who end up dropping out, right?

Why don't we have AP courses in all of our schools and only on some campuses?
— Rocío Rivas, candidates, LAUSD Board District 2

If we address those students scoring “below basic,” then we're addressing high school dropout rates, because those are the students that will drop out or end up in a continuation high school or maybe be misdiagnosed as special needs. Those are the students that really fall through the cracks. The benefits of stepping in now will come at a later date, but they won't fall through the cracks because we address those students.

What do you say to the child who's in a stable household — at whatever income level — who would say their mental health is not the issue; to a student who says, “I couldn't engage with my online lesson, and as a result, I got bumped from honors English into the regular English class,” or, “I’m fine, but my teacher was MIA, and as a result I slipped from the regular math class into remedial math class.” What's the answer for those students?

Those students are just as important. I’m focused— I'm talking about the students that need the most help, the most marginalized.

The students who do well, we have to challenge them and push them even more, bring them also those resources, enrichment programs, the hands-on projects, dual enrollment. We can say a lot of parents don't know that their students can get college credit if they go to community college and take college courses. Those parents can take those courses as well.

Like I said, it's not one size fits all. There's one way of addressing the students that need help, and then there's another way of addressing the students that are excelling and to give them more so they can get to that level of having three Advanced Placement courses like I did. I had all AP courses, I have all honors courses. But unfortunately, I had to be bussed to the Valley, because the school in my area — L.A. High — didn't have that. And that's something that continues today.

That's another thing that we have to address in the district: the inequalities within the district that force our children to have to drive or take the bus 40 minutes away for a school that has all of that because our local schools don't have that. Why is that?

Then in our local schools, we have very high achieving, highly gifted students, but they don't have those programs in their schools. They have to go to the Valley or they have to go to other areas that have those resources. Why don't we have AP courses in all of our schools and only on some campuses?

So it's very complex. And what I've learned in politics is that I have to listen to every single voice. I have to listen to the mom who has to work three jobs, and I listen to the other mom who has a high paying job.

Enrollment Decline

LAUSD’s enrollment has been declining for years. How would you push the district to counter this drop in enrollment?

We have to look at the demographics in our city. Let's look at our new parents. The district is expanding universal transitional kindergarten (TK) through the statewide initiative over the next four to five years. So that means that there's potential of bringing those new parents, the ones who have 3-year-olds, the working class parents, into the district. That's where we have to have that connection with our families, our new parents, and connecting with daycares, identifying where we can recoup parents.

The city also has to be aware that our districts are changing. We have all these programs. We have dual language programs in so many languages, world languages. We have magnets with great themes from environment to visual and performing arts to criminal justice. We have career pathways. So we have to let the community and the city know that there's so much to offer.

Every single school that I visit in LAUSD, I would say 90%, it is just asphalt and pavement and hot. There isn't any color.
— Rocío Rivas, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

We also have adult educators. Adults also want to come back to school to take certification classes. We have undocumented adults who want to take citizenship classes or ESL classes. That's enrollment. We also let the state know that we need money for adults, for our adults, as well. They're essential. They help the economy. They bring jobs.

But when we bring them from early education, we have to make sure we're following through with those parents to get them to continue to stay with LAUSD. Providing more enrichment programs, more arts, making sure that every single school, no matter where you go, has arts programs and are fully staffed.

But apart from that is also aesthetics. Every time, every single school that I visit in LAUSD, I would say 90%, it is just asphalt and pavement and hot. There isn't any color. If children are not out there on the playground, you wouldn't even know that's a school. And that's very sad. And that is also what parents see when they pass by and say, “Oh, my God, like that school looks so sad.” They don't know that what's actually going inside of the classrooms is the opposite of sad — there's so much learning, there's so much happiness going inside, but when you look from the outside, it just looks sad.

And that's the other area that I really want to emphasize in my work, is addressing the facilities needs of our schools. Our air conditioning units are always failing. Classroom cabinet doors are falling so teachers have to hang curtain rods. Then the district says, well, that's going to cost you $10,000 to change three doors. That's ridiculous — and it's going to come out of the budget of the school. There’s bathrooms that are falling apart, sewage — it is unacceptable. Those are the things that I will not stand for, and those are the things that drive parents away.

But if we bring them back and say, “Look, there's soap in the bathrooms, the doors, we fixed everything. It’s beautiful, there's fresh paint, we have trees, we have gardens,” that is what's going to bring back the parents, knowing that their kids are going to be safe and they're going to be healthy and they're going to be well-taken-care-of inside of our schools. That is, in essence, what's going to bring enrollment back into LAUSD.

It feels like there's a stereotype that it's rich families that want to go to these leafy private schools. But I also remember talking to parents from lower-income communities during the pandemic who are like, “We're supposed to be expected to go back to the school, and they never have soap in my bathroom.” So who do you mean when you talk about the parents you want to “bring back” who might be scared off by these aesthetic concerns?

It's all parents, it's all parents. Like you said, I've spoken to parents who have, who are coming from the same neighborhoods I did in Mid City L.A. — from Pico Union and Boyle Heights — and they say, They don't care about us, so why should I care about LAUSD? They never come around. When we were fighting a colocation, nobody came to help us. So why should I even fight for a school that doesn't care about my child?

And also a parent who says they don't have the arts education I want for my child. I don't like that they don't address social-emotional learning, which is important for me, for my child. And then those are all the parents that leave because of different, varying reasons.

I know for sure that a lot of parents leave LAUSD to a charter school because it's all new, it's a brand new building and everything is clean, new, and modern. A lot of parents will go to that school just for the aesthetics, despite the fact that that charter school is not faring any better than their local middle school right down the street.

We have to do everything in our power to stop any school from closing.
— Rocío Rivas, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

Parents make a decision based on what they hear about what that school has and doesn’t have, and not why the district doesn’t have that.

So there's a lot of reasons why people leave, not just one. But it is because there's so much lacking in the district that they feel is someplace else, not knowing that it can be in the district. We just have to, unfortunately, fight for it more than ever because we just, this has just been a disinvestment in our public education system.

Disinvestment by whom?

By the federal government, the state government, our taxes — Prop 13 — also local taxes. There's just not money coming in, it's money coming out of our district.

It was really through Prop 13 when everything, all the funding started to really decrease, decrease to where we are now. Now, and after the Great Recession, government spending decreased even more, so there was even less funding going into our public services or institutions.

Superintendent Carvalho has said that school closures, while not inevitable, will be very difficult to avoid unless present enrollment trends reverse. That means it’s hard to rule out the possibility that you would have to vote on plans to close schools during your term.  So do you agree with Carvalho that school closures are inevitable unless things get turned around, enrollment-wise?

I don't think anything is inevitable. I want to look at the data, the facts.

The community wants to fight for their school. So you let them know, “OK, these are the issues we are facing. And this is why we see a potential of our school closing, but these are the solutions.” We always have to come up with a solution and work toward that solution.

But closing a school unilaterally, without actually looking at solutions, then that is something I will not be in favor of. Closing a school is so detrimental for a community. A school, is the hub, is the nexus of our communities. When you close that, you're closing part of the heart of a community. So we have to do everything in our power to stop any school from closing.

Before we close any of our neighborhood public schools, we have to look first at low-performing charter schools.
— Rocío Rivas, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

I actually want to look at closing our charter schools who are low performing, who are serving less than 100 students. We have to look at it holistically because we have two systems here. It's not just the district, it's also the charter schools. Assembly Bill 1505 gave the authorizers the power to close charters if they're low performing: We give them two years, and if they don't come up to par in two years, “Sorry, we have to revoke your charter.” And with those students, we have to recoup them back into the district or if they want to go to other charters, that's fine.

Before we close any of our neighborhood public schools, we have to look first at low-performing charter schools, because then those students can come back to our schools and help us regain that strength in our neighborhood public schools that we've lost.

It sounds like what you’re saying is that you’re not open to closing LAUSD-run schools until the district closes down low-performing charters first.

Yeah. The first order of business, if it comes down to closing schools, is: let's look at charters.

Let's look at all solutions and help our schools before we even consider closing them.

Charter Schools

How do you see the school board's role in overseeing charter schools, and do you think it's the board's job to find ways to shut these schools down?

I am representing not only LAUSD, but all constituents within Board District 2, and that encompasses charter schools. I am responsible for those children and I feel responsible for those parents. And my role as a board member is to make sure that they are being accountable.

There's a lot of Notices to Cure that have come through our office. [“Notices to Cure” are written warnings that LAUSD regulators send to charter schools about issues they want corrected.] That indicates to me that there are a lot of things that charter schools, operationally and through management, are not compliant on.

And that is my role. I want to make sure that they are doing right by our students — that they are operating with transparency and honesty. I'm not there to shut them down. If they're complying and everything is tip top and our students are learning and families are happy, I'm not going to close down your school.

The thing is that charter schools, we have to understand, are they doing any better than the district? And the thing is, no. What I see is the charter school industry is replicating the district. They're replicating one another. And I don't see any difference with what the charter school industry is doing. I see a replication of the same system, except one system is in the hands of private hands and the other on the public. I really question that.

The District's Budget

Pandemic aid from the federal government plus strong budgets in Sacramento have meant more money for LAUSD. But Superintendent Carvalho has warned of tough times looming not far down the road. How concerned are you that many of the same structural concerns about LAUSD’s budget will return? Do you agree with Carvalho’s assessment of LAUSD’s budget?

This money was a godsend and we were very happy that this ESSER and COVID relief money came. But it's a Band-Aid for the short-term.

This is the money that the district or our schools have required for decades, so to give it to us and be like “Here is a little bit of money to get it together,” and then say, “OK, you're not going to have the money anymore, so you're back to where you were before,” is not OK. There's so many other needs that this pandemic has impacted long term; it's not just something that's going to go away in three years.

I'm going to be fighting for that money. I want to work with other board members and lobbying and working to make sure that we don't lose all of those funds; we need that money long term.

What funds are you talking about fighting for? I mean like, are you talking about another stimulus package from the state or federal government? Or are there changes like SB 830, which would switch to funding schools based on their enrollment, not their student attendance rates? It just doesn’t seem like we can expect to receive another generational stimulus of federal and state aid.

Well, I think the federal government has to understand that they have to not just provide for Title I. The money that came from ESSER I and II — those were essential. Please federal government, can you help us in making sure that this money continues? Also, the federal government needs to spend more for our special education students. If they can cover 40% of our average special education costs, that would help the district tremendously. [Currently, the federal government only provides about half that amount to help LAUSD educate students with disabilities.]

Are we throwing money at devices that are not working and we have to buy more?
— Rocío Rivas, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

The same amount of level of funds that came from ESSER can be replicated if they put more money in a lot of these federal programs that help our students from the state level. That's also where the vast majority of our funds come from.

So let's also work with the state. I know Senator [Anthony] Portantino’s bill was going to help in changing from attendance to enrollment. I don't understand why it didn't pass. I think we need to make sure that another bill comes that addresses how we can provide more funds equitably and efficiently into our school. So there's multiple levels where those funds have to continue.

I also think we need to really work more in conjunction with City Hall. If our schools are thriving, then our neighborhoods are going to be thriving and our families are going to be thriving. So we have to work together.

I also really want to evaluate all of these apps that our schools are using, like Amplify and Accelerated Reader. Is there money that we're wasting? And also our laptops: a lot of our devices are falling apart, and that concerns me because, does it mean we are wasting money? Are we throwing money at devices that are not working and we have to buy more? Yeah, we're going to lose our stimulus money, but that doesn't mean we can't fight for more at different levels.

Quick follow up on this budget issue. Superintendent Carvahlo has been talking a little more about the money that schools don’t spend in the year they receive it. In some ways, schools use these “carry over” dollars like a savings account. Carvalho has emphasized that schools need to be spending funding generated by this year's kids, on this year's kids; that this money is not meant to be banked and saved. Do you support that kind of talk? Should LAUSD even go so far as to “sweep” these carryover dollars — meaning: claw back unspent money in schools’ budgets?

A lot of principals have also asked for the district to help them prepare three-year budgets, instead of just a one-year budget. Right now, principals are left with uncertainty. If the principals know what kind of budget they're going to have, they know, “I'm just going to save a little bit because this next year I'm going to have less, and this little bit is going to help me in the future.”

There has to be a strategic justification for keeping that money. And if there's a school that is just being wasteful, they're not using it efficiently, then we have to deal with that in that way. But if there's a school that's using it for retaining that carry over for a specific reason because you're going to use it in the immediate future, then we have to take that into consideration. It's not at all sweeping.

Student Equity Needs Index

LAUSD now distributes a huge portion of its funding for high-needs students through its Student Equity Needs Index (SENI) — which includes school health measures, measures of neighborhood violence and other non-traditional statistics. Do you think the district should allocate more funding through this index? Or is there a better way to ensure high-needs schools’ needs are met?

I am for adding more money and actually making the SENI a bit more robust.

There were two evaluations that were done — one by by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and also by LAUSD’s Independent Analysis Unit, and I also was part of the SENI task force. I was listening to all the comments and I think it has greatly helped some schools.

It's too soon to really see the connection between SENI and the outcomes this money was meant to achieve: How did the school address social-emotional learning? Was their correlation between how the money was spent and whether it actually had the outcomes that the schools were hoping for? And it was too soon to see that correlation.

A lot of the responses from the principals were that they're spending the money on things they've done before. So I think our schools need more help in addressing how to be more creative in spending this money.

School Police

Should LAUSD run its own department of sworn law enforcement officers?

I am pretty much against all police in our schools. I think policing should be outside and not inside of our schools.

And for the district to be spending funds that should be going to our students and using it for law enforcement, I think that's just going backwards — because these funds have to go to social and emotional support for students. The Black Student Achievement Plan has been very helpful and a tremendous impact for our students. And I think that is the correct use of money.

Yes, we need security. As a mom, I want my son to be safe. I want all of his classmates to be safe. I want everyone to be safe — but we have to look at it as a social responsibility. We have a school-to-prison pipeline that is thriving because more than half of incarcerated people are Black and Brown, both among females and males.

We have to have a different way of addressing the issues that our children, our students are facing. And it's not through policing, it's not through the juvenile system. It has to be mental health services, holistic services, social services that we need to help our students and we have to take responsibility for that.

Every day I hear of someone who has been shot by the police and I think about the children and their kids and the families and that our kids are seeing that every day. My son hears it every day — and when are we going to stop that? And I think we have to stop in our schools, and say that's not going to happen in our schools and we have to educate and treat our kids differently. Policing is not the way.

I've known that because I've faced it in my own personal life and I feel very strongly about it. But I do want our kids to be safe. So we have to come to the table and address how to keep safe — but at the same time, not criminalizing our kids further.

So yeah, I'm against law enforcement and I don't think the district should be spending millions of the funds that should be going to our students.

So can I ask what you're thinking of that makes you visibly emotional about this?

It just makes me sad that we can’t be safe and have this trust with law enforcement in all these years because we're seen as criminals. Even myself as a Brown person, I go to stores and I'm followed and I know I'm being followed because I'm Brown and because of stereotypes and discrimination.

I know when our schools are being seen as failures because they're composed of Black and Brown kids. So that hurts me to know that I'm seen and my people are seen as criminals. And that we're treated as criminals, inside of schools.

I know there are good cops. I know that they have their hearts in the right place. It's just the institution, the training, and the dynamics is just so unhealthy, and it's seeping into our schools.
— Rocío Rivas, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

When I was a kid, that didn't happen. I never saw law enforcement in school. I grew up in the early ‘70s and 80s . It was different, right? It's changed since then. It hurts my soul to know that that's happening to our kids. We over-sexualize our children — there's so much in our society that we do wrong for our kids and that yet we expect them to be children and we expect them to dress a certain way and be a certain way.

Like my son. He did everything perfect. He's a perfect kid, loving. But then he's wearing a hoodie and all of a sudden he's not that beautiful child, He's a criminal, right? And I see that and I've seen that throughout my life as a student, too, when I was in school that all of my friends were "gang members" and they all either died, ended up in the juvenile system, or I never saw them again.

When you made the air-quotes gesture with the words “gang members,” what did you mean by that?

Some weren’t involved with gangs at all. Some were, but they were just hanging out with friends. They weren’t really involved. But because they dressed a certain way, they hang out with certain people, or they had a certain skin color… So I've been carrying this all my life. To see it now in the Black Lives Matter movement, I was in solidarity because it's something I've seen and experienced — it just devastates lives.

Even in undocumented families — when you separate and deport family members, that breaks that family structure. And I take that personally because, that could be me. Right. If my life trajectory hadn't changed in a certain way, my life could have been that way.

Every day I hear of someone else has been shot for no probable cause and it just takes me back and it's like at some point we just have to stop that. And our kids are seeing that. Our children are seeing that. And I know there is good law enforcement; I know there are good cops. I know that they have their hearts in the right place. It's just the institution, the training and the dynamics is just so unhealthy, and it's seeping into our schools. And I don't think our schools should be that. Our schools should be nurturing, and we should be loving our kids and helping them know who they are rather than just seeing them as just criminals.

I’m basically hearing you say, “We should have security, but it shouldn't be provided by police inside of schools.” Is there a role for a school police department to provide perimeter security or to be the primary responding agency outside of the school? Or does your statement extend so far as, like, we should be outsourcing all of our police work to other agencies?

No, the school police do great work. They have investigators. They have detectives. They work on trafficking. I want them to work on gang prevention on the perimeter. Yes, there's work for them to be done on the perimeter. We need to have guns out of our schools, working with LAPD on how to secure the perimeter of our schools, and also having strict protocols on when and when not to call law enforcement.

We're here to find common ground. We're here to connect, we're here to talk to one another.
— Rocío Rivas, candidate, LAUSD Board District 2

And then, yes, on the perimeter, they're helping us clear passages to home, making sure students are able to get to and from school, helping us with human trafficking, with drugs. And that is happening and I'm not going to say it's not, and we need to address that, but it shouldn't be inside of our schools where the students feel like they're being victimized, or they're being criminalized, or they're being pinpointed. The policing presence is outside.

So the students feel when they leave their school, inside of their school, they feel safe and loved and happy. And I want them to feel that when they leave the school — it's safe and that they could see, yes, there's law enforcement there, but they're here for making sure that you can get home safe. They're here to help with the traffic. They're here to make sure that there's no weirdos around. I mean, they're watching out for my safety, rather than having that relationship or that perception that they're here to catch me because I'm going to do something wrong or they're looking at me and I feel scared they're going to follow me home or whatever the case may be.

It sounds like you're outlining a more narrow role for school police, but you do see some role for the department. There's a lot of activist energy around the idea that there shouldn't be a role for police in the schools, and people who may not rest until you’ve eliminated the department entirely. What's your message to them? Do you think that they're wrong to be pushing for that?

Well, they're not wrong because that's what they believe and that's their conviction. And I'm not going to deny what somebody believes in. However, I also have to let them know that there is another group that thinks the opposite of them. And I also represent them as well.

There's always two sides to a situation. I have to efficiently and effectively let them know that I have to listened to both sides, otherwise I'm not being democratic. I'm not being a real public servant because I'm only listening to the needs of one group and neglecting the needs of another. That's not what a public servant is. We're here to find common ground. We're here to connect, we're here to talk to one another.

In Board District Five, we have communities in Southeast L.A. that are totally opposed to not having police. They want to feel safe, and that's why we listen to them as well. So how can we help them feel secure and address their concerns, but also address the needs of this other group who feels very fearful and are very adamant of not having any police? There's always middle ground. There's always a solution. That is my voice. I'm a public servant. I have to serve both sides. What if it was the other way? What if I was only listening to them and I wasn't listening to the other group? Is that fair? We have to be fair.

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