Downtown Magnets High School senior Erin Panguito had a run-in with the police when her school deemed she was high-risk for suicide. Instead of social workers checking up on her, two police officers knocked on her door at home.
“I didn’t experience anything negative, but I know had it been another person under different circumstances it could have easily escalated because police don’t have a history of dealing with people with mental illness very well,” Panguito said.
Despite this experience, Panguito feels hopeful, as the Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously voted on Feb. 16 to cut one-third of LAUSD officers in schools and reallocate funding to support Black students.
The decision comes after a year-long initiative to reform school police programs. Many student activists and advocacy groups, including Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and InnerCity Struggle, have vocalized their support for the decision, claiming Black and Latinx students are disproportionately targeted by school officers.
The Black Student Achievement Plan will provide $36.5M to 53 schools that have at least 100 Black students enrolled who display, “high need indicators.” These indicators include high levels of chronic absenteeism, disproportionate punishment rates for Black students and poor academic performance, according to the LAUSD School Board.
The goal is to close learning gaps between students of color and white students. Part of LAUSD’s plan is to connect with community groups that have previously helped Black students succeed and to reduce disproportionate rates of suspension or other forms of discipline within their schools.
“Student safety is everyone’s responsibility and it starts with creating a school environment that is centered in students’ social-emotional wellbeing,” LA Board of Education President Kelly Gonez said in a press conference detailing the plan. “The Board’s investment in the Black Student Achievement Plan ensures we are actively working to promote equity across the District.”
$25M from the LASPD Funds will be used toward the Plan, which will hire more school counselors, social workers and “climate coaches.” These “climate coaches” will be assigned to all secondary schools and trained to use social-emotional strategies to strengthen student engagement and implement a positive school culture eliminating racial disproportionality in school practices. This includes understanding and addressing implicit bias.
Sarah Djato, a student at Dorsey High School in South Central Los Angeles and a member of Students Deserve, a volunteer-led group that prioritizes the leadership of Black students for Black liberation and pushes for funding of community schools. Djato has been actively involved in the movement to divest funds away from the police, and reinvest in student services. Upon hearing the news of the decision last week, she felt “happy” but also said, “was about time.”
“I was randomly searched in middle school, and that experience was definitely negative and traumatizing,” Djato said. “On top of that, the high school that I go to is over-policed. The experiences [with the police] that my friends share with me, and that I witnessed, have not been positive at all.”
Fellow LAUSD student Panguito feels hopeful about the reallocation of funds, but is “not very trusting that the redirection of the funds will do anything.”
“Although interactions with LAUSD police will hopefully decrease, it doesn’t really change the way that those interactions will happen when they do,” Panguito said.
She feels the school board’s actions can be “performative” at times and is concerned by the lack of detail the board has provided students on how the new funds will be utilized. “It seems very reactionary to things that have been happening right now,” Panguito said referring to the BLM movement.
Djato has a more optimistic perspective. She views the unanimous vote as a “victory” and a big step towards the abolishment of police on campuses and the investment in resources that are “actually beneficial” for students on campuses.
“I can’t wait for this to be explored more,” Djato said.”To see the results of students who will be receiving the benefits that the proposal provides.”