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Who Are 'Climate Coaches' LAUSD Plans To Hire In Place Of Cops?

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The L.A. Unified School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to cut one-third of the school police force and use the money saved to hire school counselors, psychiatric social workers, restorative justice advisors and "climate coaches" trained in de-escalation techniques.

Police will no longer patrol campuses, and will only be called to respond in-person during emergencies.

The new coaching and advisory positions will be offered to district secondary schools with at least 100 Black students that meet certain criteria, which can include disproportionate levels of punishment for Black students, substandard academic performance and/or high levels of chronic absenteeism.

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LAUSD schools have to meet certain criteria to receive money for more counselors, social workers, climate coaches and restorative justice advisors. (Courtesy of LAUSD)

The student advocacy group Students Deserve initially proposed the climate coach position, according to Joseph Williams, the organization's director of operations and campaigns. The goal is to prevent violence on campus instead of reacting with punitive measures after violence breaks out, he said.

"We don't need police and handcuffs," Williams said. "I speak from personal experience as somebody who was criminalized at 13 years old and spent time in a juvenile detention center and was charged with assault and battery for getting in a fight with another kid."

The coaches will be able to anticipate and prevent on-campus fights by developing personal relationships with students and by understanding their social circumstances, he said. If fights do happen, climate coaches will be ready to intervene, Williams added.

"Those are the best folks on campus at de-escalating situations because students [will] have a relationship with them," he said. "It's like a parent or a trusted adult or elder in the community ... you're not going to swing on your uncle."

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Kahlila Williams, a student member of Students Deserve, said based on her experience, it should be easy for climate coaches to know when fights are brewing.

"Any time something was going to go down ... everyone knew ahead of time," Williams said. "When kids talk, they think they're quiet, but they're really not. The signs are all there."

Nearly $3 million in funding cut from LAUSD school police will be spent on hiring climate coaches. The plan is to hire them from the communities where they will work, according to the LAUSD task force that drew up the school police plan. The district will provide training in de-escalation strategies and recognizing implicit bias.

Another $6.5 million will be spent on hiring restorative justice advisors.

The union representing school police slammed the decision to cut its ranks, saying in a statement the board's action "WILL place our children and staff in harm's way."

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But some current LAUSD school police officers could be good candidates for the newly-created positions, said Isaac Bryan, director of the UCLA Black Policy Project and a member of the district's task force.

"There are some officers who come from that orientation--of a community servant," he said.
The timeline for hiring and training for the new positions is still unclear. Meanwhile, Bryan wants to see the school police cut further, to make room for more climate coaches and other counselors.

Students Deserve will keep pushing the school board to fully disband the LAUSD police.