Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
Cecily Mart-Cruz speaks at a rally on the steps of LAUSD headquarters on June 16 urging the district to defund its police force.

As some school districts in California move to dismantle their police departments, the state took a stand this week: All school districts should spend less money on police and more on counseling and other services to support students.

The move, part of the state budget agreement between the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, comes amid a nationwide movement to overhaul police systems in the wake of a Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. In cities and school districts across the country, activists are urging the dismantling of police departments that they view as racist and a source of violence in Black and Latino communities.

This week, the Los Angeles Unified board voted against defunding its police department after an emotional meeting Tuesday night, saying more study is needed; and Oakland Unified planned to vote Wednesday night on eliminating its campus police. Other districts, such as West Contra Costa Unified, have voted to sever their contracts with local city police departments. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified board voted to not renew its contract with the San Francisco Police Department and to direct more money to counseling and other services.

In California, 23 school districts have their own police departments, while others contract with local city police or sheriff’s departments or rely on non-sworn security staff, according to the state Police Officer Standards and Training.

In the budget agreement released Tuesday, the Legislature said it plans to evaluate the role of police on school campuses and study alternatives. It also encouraged school districts to redirect money usually spent on police toward mental health counselors; bias training for teachers and other school staff; and restorative justice, an alternative form of campus discipline where disputes are resolved by talking through problems and addressing underlying causes.

But the budget did not provide districts new money for those initiatives, which can be expensive. Oakland Unified, for example, voted to cut its restorative justice program last year when it faced budget cuts (the program was later restored when the city contributed funds).

The budget does set aside $200,000 for the creation of a Young People’s Task Force to advise the governor and state education leaders on school police matters.

Meanwhile, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Wednesday that the state is contracting with WestEd, a San Francisco-based nonpartisan nonprofit research firm, to study the effects of police on campus. Thurmond said the research will allow the Department of Education to create policies on school safety based on data about police interactions with students, which is currently limited. The department will also host a series of ethnic studies webinars on the histories and accomplishments of people of color and create curriculum for an ethnic studies class that, if approved, would be required for high school graduation. Bias training will also be made available for all school employees.

“This is a moment of urgency,” he said. “As our state and nation confront difficult conversations about racial justice, it’s evident that schools are uniquely positioned to tackle some of these issues head-on.”

Advocacy groups said they were heartened by the state’s actions, but the moves did not go far enough — not just in addressing police reform but the broader issues of racism, discipline and mental health within the education system.

“We’ll need a stronger stance from the governor on policing in schools to address systemic policing of young people in school,” said Saa’un Bell, strategy director at Californians for Justice. “It’s not just about police in uniforms. It’s about adults on and outside of school campuses participating in the act of policing, as well.”

Bell’s group, along with 21 other advocacy organizations, sent a letter to Newsom last week asking for a ban on school police entirely; more funding for counselors, restorative justice and other student support services and steps to empower Black and Latino students, such as allowing students under age 18 to vote in school board elections and creating a task force to advise how they can benefit from economic recovery efforts.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also been active in efforts to ban school police, issuing a report last year saying that 1.7 million students in the U.S. attended schools with police but no counselors. Schools that emphasize policing over mental health services tend to see worse outcomes for students generally and an overall decline in the school climate, according to the report.

Amir Whitaker, policy counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, said the state “needs to go much further” in addressing the imbalance between school police and counseling.

“The harm that all students, but particularly Black students, are facing is urgent and must be addressed immediately,” he said. “This minimal response to a global uprising is disheartening, especially considering the fact that California leads the nation with schools that have police but no counselors. Serious state leadership and support for defunding school police is needed to provide students with essential services.”

Noemi Soto, statewide coordinator for Dignity in Schools Campaign California, agreed that the state’s actions so far are insufficient. For Black and Latino students, who are disproportionately apprehended and arrested by school police, the matter is especially urgent, she said.

“For the governor to ‘encourage’ schools to do the right thing or to ‘reinvest’ resources if found to be ‘more appropriate’ is not enough for our students and families,” she said, adding that local school boards are taking more aggressive steps to remove police from campuses.

A study released last year by WestEd found 27% of Black students surveyed said it was “not at all true” that the presence of police on their school campuses made them feel safe. About 15% of Latino and white students said they felt that way, along with 9% of Asian students. The survey, conducted in 2017-18, included students from eight diverse school districts in California.

Students involved with Californians for Justice said Tuesday that police were almost always a negative presence on campus, and sometimes caused more harm than good. A better option for handling school discipline is restorative justice and counseling, they said. One student advocated for alumni and community organizers to be available to students inside schools.

“We need people on campus who are trusted, who care about us, who are helpful, who have relationships with us,” said Kamarie Brown, a senior at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles Unified. “The police don’t make things better. For most people, they just trigger more trauma. They want nothing to do with us unless they’re putting us in handcuffs.”

Gloria Ashaolu, who just graduated from high school in Stockton Unified, said banning police is important, but the issue of racism in schools is far deeper. Low expectations, bias among teachers and staff, limited access to challenging coursework and other issues also prevent Black and Latino students from succeeding, she said.

“The issue is bigger than police. It’s a whole system,” she said. “I think of that Malcolm X quote: ‘If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made.’ That’s what we need to see.”

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  1. Allan Miller 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Let's achieve a healthy balance, everyone. I'll be the first to admit that we need a concerted effort toward mental health services in our schools but at the same time, school policing is not the enemy here. Our school district has an excellent police department comprised of both sworn law enforcement and security officers. Overall, they are respected and held in high esteem by our community. As a both a district employee … Read More

    Let’s achieve a healthy balance, everyone. I’ll be the first to admit that we need a concerted effort toward mental health services in our schools but at the same time, school policing is not the enemy here.

    Our school district has an excellent police department comprised of both sworn law enforcement and security officers. Overall, they are respected and held in high esteem by our community. As a both a district employee and a father of a high school student, it puts me at peace knowing that our students and staff have a level of increased safety while at school. Social justice and physical safety can coexist in a very positive way.

  2. Floyd Thursby 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    It is wrong to say police are racist. Men are arrested more than women, not due to sexism. Some races in modern society behave differently from others. Asian Americans study over twice as many hours per week as whites and thereby earn much more. If you don't wish to be suspended, don't disrespect teachers, break rules or act violently. The assumption all races misbehave at the same rate is false, and everyone knows … Read More

    It is wrong to say police are racist. Men are arrested more than women, not due to sexism. Some races in modern society behave differently from others. Asian Americans study over twice as many hours per week as whites and thereby earn much more.

    If you don’t wish to be suspended, don’t disrespect teachers, break rules or act violently. The assumption all races misbehave at the same rate is false, and everyone knows it. No one on this site could pass a lie detector test that they believe all races shoplift, evade BART fares, fight or kill at the same rate and the reason for more arrests is police bias.

    Because most victimize members of the same race, strict enforcement of behavioral standards actually helps African Americans, which is why charter schools follow this plan. Don’t assume bias. Teach all kids that the path to success is study long hours, marry before having kids, save, work hard, avoid drugs, pay attention in class, work hard on the job, assimilate. It works for everyone which is why black immigrants from Africa earn more than white Americans. Read Triple Package.

  3. Bo Loney 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    How about more on those AP courses and teachers people say are lacking? More on after school programs and clubs. More on libraries. More on field trips to museums. etc etc

  4. Floyd Thursby 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    We need to spend massive amounts on tutoring. The average Asian American kid gets help from parents and studies over twice as many hours per week as the average white kid in California (13.8 hours per week vs. 5.6). This has led to a significantly higher income, virtually nonexistent crime, homelessness and dropout rates, higher happiness and better academic achievement. We need to convince parents to make sure their kids study long hours. … Read More

    We need to spend massive amounts on tutoring. The average Asian American kid gets help from parents and studies over twice as many hours per week as the average white kid in California (13.8 hours per week vs. 5.6). This has led to a significantly higher income, virtually nonexistent crime, homelessness and dropout rates, higher happiness and better academic achievement.

    We need to convince parents to make sure their kids study long hours. We won’t have unequal study hours and equal income. We have to stop blaming racism. Any individual failing needs to change their daily habits. America has a simple formula for success that works for anyone, which is why everyone wants to move here.

    Study long hours, work hard, save, avoid drugs, invest, blame yourself when you fail and get back up, respect teachers, marry before having kids, stay married. Immigrants from Africa do it and out-earn whites significantly. We must focus on habits, morals, and character.

  5. Steve L. 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Clearly you’ve never taught in an inner city school.

  6. Raphael Lamas 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I am for removing any form of law enforcement from any school campus. There is not need for law enforcement (police) to be on school campus. Because mostly Latinos and Africa American students get arrested and sent to Juvenile Hall.

    I support reforming the justice system. And it has start by removing the police from school campus. I am a voter, and I will vote against any politician who does not support removing the police from school campus.

  7. Dr. Bill Conrad 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    While the redirection of money supporting police to school counselors is a step forward, the premise supporting the redirection may be faulty. It may be that the children are generally fine but it is the adults within the system who are messed up and need support. The students are generally resilient and will respond well to high quality and professional teaching. All students and families expect the school system and in particular … Read More

    While the redirection of money supporting police to school counselors is a step forward, the premise supporting the redirection may be faulty. It may be that the children are generally fine but it is the adults within the system who are messed up and need support. The students are generally resilient and will respond well to high quality and professional teaching.

    All students and families expect the school system and in particular teachers to treat their children with respect, like them, and give them voice within the classroom. They expect teachers to be able to know their content well and to be able to teach it well.

    However, in schools of color, that is not what they are getting.
    Students of color are getting mostly novice and ill-prepared teachers within a system that is fundamentally racist and always protecting white privilege. I have 45 years of experience with the K-12 education system. I have visited numerous classrooms with students of color. Some of the teachers were outstanding. Most however were not. Many did not even tell the students the learning objectives for the lesson that they were teaching or use instructional practices well.

    All it takes is for a student to get two unqualified teachers for the students to stay permanently behind grade level in their school career. Guess who is likely to get the unqualified teachers within the K-12 education system?

    So when we consider the admirable redirection of funds away from police in schools, we should avoid the knee jerk reaction to blame the victims and instead focus on fixing the adults within the system. All teachers and administrators within schools of color must provide students with high quality and aligned professional practices. That change will go a long way in improving school culture and reducing strife within schools.

    We need to think differently about the K-12 education system as it is totally broken and not able to provide for the learning needs of all of our students and especially our students of color.

    Let’s focus our attention on the right stuff.