How do we keep kids safe from gun violence in school without making them feel like criminals? That was the dominant question posed by the LAUSD Board Tuesday, which voted 4-3 to phase out its controversial “wanding” policy to randomly search students with hand-held metal detectors, while also voting to tell parents to lock up their guns at home so kids can’t bring them to school.
Students of color have been protesting LAUSD’s wanding program for several years, saying it makes them feel like criminals in school and has not been effective in turning up guns.
Board President Monica Garcia (BD2), Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4), Board Members Kelly Gonez (BD6) and Jackie Goldberg (BD5) voted to direct the superintendent to replace the wanding program by July 2020. “We have to balance the need for safety and the need for trust and respect for everyone,” Garcia said. “There is injustice, whether it’s intended or unintended...Many [students] have felt criminalized.”
LAUSD Board members Scott Schmerelson (BD3), George McKenna (BD1) and Richard Vladovic (BD7) opposed the change, warning that it would lead to lawsuits against the district the next time there is a school shooting. School police also opposed the change, saying it served as a deterrent.
McKenna provoked jeers from student activists when he suggested their claims of racial profiling were “exaggeration, maybe even some fabrication.”
“I’m trying to protect you,” said McKenna, who witnessed three of his students get shot to death when he worked on campuses in South L.A. He also pointed out that 78% of LAUSD parents surveyed support the wanding program. “If this is not the right policy, tell me what is.”
While the wanding debate was contentious, the board voted unanimously for a resolution from Schmerelson, McKenna and Melvoin to inform parents of their legal duty to safely store guns at home. Nearly 70 percent of student shooters in America take their guns from family members.
“Preventing gun violence in schools absolutely begins at home with us as parents,” said Speak UP Director of Operations Daphne Radfar, mother of two kids attending LAUSD schools and one recent graduate. “Parents that choose to own a gun at home, it is your responsibility to lock that gun up and throw the key where no one can find it…No child should ever have access to a gun.”
Radfar urged LAUSD not to just send home a flyer the first week of school that might get lost amid all the other forms parents receive that week. “We want this to matter. We want this to count. So please make sure the information is separate and meaningful.”
Speak UP parent and transgender activist Justine Gonzalez also testified at the meeting in favor of a resolution to increase support for LGBTQ students. The resolution from Gonez, Melvoin and Garcia, which passed with unanimous support, called for greater access to gender-neutral bathrooms, more LGBTQ equity and non-discrimination training for all school staff, and the establishment of an anti-bullying program.
“Prioritize the voices of our families and our youth who so often feel like they don’t have a voice, that they don’t have access to this building, to you,” said Gonzalez, whose daughter is entering kindergarten in the fall. “I have to have that conversation with teachers and educators and staff when I first arrive for a tour. Cece has called me ‘Mama’ from day one. I won’t always look a certain way. I won’t always sound a certain way, but that’s what she calls me.”
In a surprise move, the board came dangerously close to tossing out its contract with Teach For America, which would have thrown school staffing for the fall into disarray. Goldberg led the charge against TFA, complaining about member qualifications and asking why more TFA alumni don’t stay with the district after their commitment is up. (Lida Jennings, the executive director TFA Los Angeles, told the board that 88% stay for a third year of teaching and 60% for a fourth.)
Vladovic and Schmerelson also voted against TFA, and McKenna initially abstained on the contract before ultimately voting to support the program because too many experienced teachers refuse to teach in LAUSD’s highest-need schools. McKenna objected to the fact that we label schools “hard-to-staff schools,” while teachers who “chose not to work in those schools, they didn’t get a name -- recalcitrant, reluctant, unwilling, afraid.”
Gonez, a TFA alumna, made a passionate case for keeping the program. “To take away teachers that my principals have chosen for their schools and to leave our children with disabilities with a sub on the first day of school is not acceptable to me. I cannot sit by and let my students be harmed.”
While Gonez said she absolutely supports having the highest qualified, most experienced teachers at highest-need schools, “we should all be clear they are not choosing to go to those schools right now,” she said. “I have schools in my district that don’t want to open another classroom, even though they have the enrollment, because they know they will not find a qualified teacher. They will get a teacher who’s got a number of below-standard evaluations, who’s not performing. They’ll get a pool teacher who doesn’t have experience in that subject area. Or they’ll get a qualified teacher, and then they’ll leave.”
The board also:
· Voted to approve the Local Control Accountability Plan, a plan to address the needs of the district’s most vulnerable students, and the 2019-20 budget. The LCAP was criticized by both Goldberg and Melvoin, who said we needed greater transparency and plans that are clear and strategic. Schmerelson voted no on the budget to protest staff layoffs.
· Voted to oppose a proposed change by California State University system to add a fourth year of math or quantitative reasoning to the requirements needed to apply. Board members said it was designed to restrict access to college for high-needs students, and the number of seats available should instead be expanded to meet the demand.
· Passed a resolution from Student Board Member Tyler Okeke to ensure that school dress codes don’t discriminate against students based on gender and culture. The Board also named its new student board member, Frances Suavillo, an incoming senior at Carson High school, the first Asian American student to hold the position.