South LA

Police Free LAUSD Coalition calls for greater mental health resources for Black students

A recent survey by student activists showed Black students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are in need of more mental health resources than the district currently offers.

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According to a survey conducted by student activists from the Police Free LAUSD Coalition, the mental health resources available to Black students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are severely lacking in meeting their needs. The survey collected responses from over 2,300 students at 100 LAUSD schools.

The Police Free LAUSD Coalition, a group of 15 L.A. community-based organizations, spoke at the LAUSD headquarters on Tuesday in support of the Black Student Achievement Plan, which increases financial aid for mental health resources for Black students.

“To the 2,300 students that completed the survey, mental health is still an issue because there are still not enough resources,” said Amir Whitaker, senior policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the event’s first speaker. “Schools are still relying on policing, criminalizing and abusing students in response to fighting and other behavior that would be stopped and prevented with mental health support.”

LAUSD declined to comment on the findings of the survey and the Police Free LAUSD Coalition’s event.

“The LAUSD is designed to spend on everything other than the value of our students,” Phillip Lester, an intervention expert with the Reverence Project and a mentor to LAUSD work, said.

Union leaders, teachers and members of LAUSD at the event said their structure is flawed. They argued that the school system isn’t allocating enough funding into programs that concern students’ well-being. Programs such as the BSAP serve as a resource for Black students to turn to in light of the lack of resources provided by LAUSD.

“We know that the district does not continue to fund and support programs that they don’t have an obligation to fund and support so that’s why we, the teachers, are demanding that the BSAP is codified in our contract,” Julie Van Winkle, the secondary vice president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, said.

Since the survey, students have made their voices heard about what they need out of a learning environment. LAUSD teachers are supporting their fight for the BSAP to take form in the district’s agenda for the school year.

“We are demanding that they have access to mental health resources, community-based safety programs and support for Black teens on campuses,” said Jacob Jackson, a youth outreach coordinator with the Youth Justice Coalition. “Is that too much to ask for?”

Jackson and his peers agree that their voices need to be heard by LAUSD, because they are the ones who are suffering from the district’s neglect of Black students’ mental health needs.

“We have to end the criminalization of our youth,” said Christian Flag, director of training and youth programming of the Black Community Coalition.

During Flag’s speech, he emphasized that there is still room for change to be made for students like Jackson.

“There are close to 40,000 Black students in LAUSD who [see] this program as powerful and transformative as it is on paper,” Flag said. “Currently, it is only concentrated [on] targeting 52 schools. So just that baseline, we got some victories, but we are forever pushing and fighting for more.”

Flag acknowledges that LAUSD is looking to implement mental health programs for Black students; however, he said they need to bolster their efforts to see real change happen in students’ lives by implementing programs like BSAP.

Flag led a chant to students, teachers and activists at the end of his speech at the LAUSD headquarters: “It is our duty to fight for freedom, it is our duty to win.”