An activist coalition in Los Angeles recently claimed victory after education officials voted to end mandatory, random student searches in the city’s public schools, a policy that has been in place for nearly 26 years.
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), a union that represents more than 31,000 educators in the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD), partnered with the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and student-led organizations that claim the practice unfairly discriminates against black, brown, and Muslim children, creating an authoritarian environment that makes some schoolkids more likely to become incarcerated in the future.
“This is some of the most significant work of the Black Lives Matter movement…the disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline,” tweeted Dr. Melina Abdullah, lead organizer of Black Lives Matter’s official L.A. chapter. “Our children’s bodies and spirits will no longer be violated by those who seek to criminalize them in schools.”
The resolution was approved by the school board last month with a 4-3 vote. According to the Los Angeles Times, it “calls for the superintendent to end the searches by July 2020, and to come up with an alternative policy that would avoid an increased police presence at schools.”
The Times went on to report that “under the current policy, administrators search students.”
However, some activists who advocated for the change see it as part of a long-term plan to remove law enforcement officers from the district altogether. Dr. Abdullah, who is also a college professor, once referenced an incremental strategy to eradicate police from school grounds, which includes “taking an abolitionist approach, and beginning by ending random searches.”
The L.A. School Police Department is the 14th largest force in California, protecting more than 600,000 students on more than 1,000 LAUSD campuses. The L.A. Times reports that “the overwhelming majority” of pupils enrolled in the district “come from low-income families.”
Student-led groups, like the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard and the Schools L.A. Students Deserve, have spent years rallying their classmates, teachers, and parents against the random search policy. Both organizations advocate for abolishing police in schools and include top organizers who have been mentored by Dr. Abdullah. The teachers union negotiated on the student-activists’ behalf in a deal that ended a six-day strike in January.
As NBC4 Los Angeles recently reported:
Vice President of United Teachers Los Angeles Cecily Myart-Cruz said the union convened with student groups earlier this year to discuss what they wanted in the bargaining package following the recent strikes. As part of the settlement with LAUSD, the union’s contract stipulated that the random searches formally come to an end, with an immediate stop to the policy in nearly 20 schools, she added.
According to Black Lives Matter-L.A., at least two of its members are also high-ranking officials with the teachers union, including UTLA Vice President Cecily Myart-Cruz. She commended the students “for standing up for their civil rights” and “for speaking truth to power on this issue.” While lobbying to end the searches, student-activists demonstrated outside of the homes of the superintendent and school board president, along with organizing a sit-in at district headquarters during the work stoppage earlier this year.
“The sentiment is high to end this policy because we know it’s not random,” Myart-Cruz said. “We don’t stand behind the students, and the students don’t stand behind us. We are standing shoulder to shoulder in this fight.”
The school board’s decision puts an end to search procedures that were first implemented in 1993 after two high school students were shot to death on separate LAUSD campuses a month apart. In 2011, district officials required daily searches at secondary schools after another shooting left two students injured.
Moving forward, the coalition plans to “advocate for the district to invest meaningfully in programs such as restorative justice, positive behavior interventions, and peer mediations.”
UTLA’s bond with Black Lives Matter created a conflict with the school police department last year when the union used its social media platforms to encourage “youth of color” to organize against “the over-policing” of schools.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.