Los Angeles school board to consider replacing officers with ‘school climate coaches’

Minneapolis City Council approves $6.4 million to expand police department

Jay Ettinger, Minneapolis resident and business owner, reacts to the decision on ‘Fox & Friends.’

During a special meeting on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education will consider an amendment to the 2020-2021 budget that would reduce 133 positions from the LAUSD Police Department, including 70 sworn officers.

The officers at secondary schools would be replaced with a new “climate coach” role, in addition to psychiatric social workers, counselors and restorative justice advisors. 

“We can’t ignore the legitimate concerns and criticisms that students and other members in the school community have about all forms of law enforcement,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said Monday during his weekly message to the community. “No person should feel the presence of a safety officer on a campus as an indictment of them or their character.”

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According to the school district’s proposal, climate coaches will assist site administrators and staff by “supporting a safe and positive school culture and climate for all students, staff, and community members” and will “be from the communities they serve with extensive knowledge and familiarity to strengthen student connection.”

Climate coaches would be trained on how to implement a positive school culture and climate, how to build positive relationships and elevate student voices, how to use social-emotional learning strategies to strengthen student engagement, how to eliminate racial disproportionality in school discipline practices, how to use effective de-escalation strategies to support conflict resolution and how to understand and address implicit bias. 

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The police officer reductions are part of the Black Student Achievement Plan, which would direct $36.5 million annually to provide supplemental services and support to 53 schools that have high numbers of Black students and “high need indicators”.

The indicators include math and english language arts proficiency rates below the district average, higher than average referral and suspension rates, below average school experience survey responses, and/or higher than average chronic absenteeism. 

The three main goals of the plan are to ensure materials and instruction are “culturally responsive to Black students” and provide additional support and intervention to students to close literacy and numeracy skill gaps, work with community groups that have demonstrated success with Black students and families and reduce “over-identification of Black students” in suspensions, discipline and other measures through targeted intervention to address students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

The board is also considering a process under the plan where schools could still request having an officer on site. 

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Under the proposal, $30.1 million would be invested for school climate and wellness programs, $7.9 million would be allocated towards psychiatric social workers, $7.6 million would be allocated towards counselors, $2.9 million would be allocated towards school climate coaches, $6.5 million would be allocated towards restorative justice advisors and $5.2 million would be allocated towards flexible “climate grants.”

The board’s proposal estimates the total budget impact of the plan would be $47 million, including a $25 million cut passed in June that would be redirected from the LAUSD police department budget, $11.5 million for additional funds for select schools under the Black Achievement plan, $9.9 million for the school climate coaches outside of the Black Achievement plan, and $600,000 for oversight and administration.

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A survey conducted among students, parents, and staff members in the district found that there is still strong debate surrounding the topic of police officers stationed at schools, with about half of respondents saying that they feel safe and comfortable around police officers. The survey’s respondents included 35,467 students,  6,639 parents and 2,348 staff members. 

The survey also found that 25 percent of Black and African American female students and 20 percent of Black and African American male students say they do not feel comfortable with school police on campus, compared to 17 percent of Latinx females and 18 percent of Latinx males, 19 percent of white females and 16 percent of white males, and 15 percent of Asian American females and 18 percent of Asian American males.  

About two in five respondents support shifting funding for school police to other student needs, with 38 percent of students, 38 percent of parents, and 42 percent of staff supporting the move compared to 8 percent of students, 24 percent of parents and 39 percent of staff opposing the move. 

Students, parents and staff overwhelmingly supported increases in funding to support staff dedicated to helping students deal with challenges that they may be having in school, including school nurses, psychiatric social workers and mental health counselors. Around half of respondents also supported funding to expand mentoring programs, afterschool programs and restorative justice programs and peace circles. 

However, the majority of parents and staff oppose the overall budget reductions to the LAUSD Police Department.

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The LAUSD School Police Department has a total of over 410 sworn police officers, 101 non-sworn school safety officers (SSO), and 34 civilian support staff, and is responsible for over 900 school campuses, including 164,806 students in grades 9-12.

It is the fifth largest police department in Los Angeles County, and the 14th largest in California. The LAUSD Police Department had a 2019-2020 budget of $70 million.

According to a 2018 UCLA study, between 2014 and 2017, the Los Angeles School Police Department detained 3,389 students for arrest and issued 2,724 citations and 1,282 diversions. Black youth comprised 25% of the total youth detentions, citations, and diversions, but represent less than 9% of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s student population. 

A livestream of the board meeting will begin at 1 p.m.

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