By Sikivu Hutchinson
On Tuesday, the LAUSD School Board will vote on a resolution to end the random search policy at all district schools and a resolution to strengthen protections for LGBTQI and nonbinary students. The random search resolution is the product of years student and community activism by the Students Not Suspects and Students Deserve coalition against racist over-policing in the second largest district in the nation. It would sunset random searches by July 2020, prohibit the re-institution of non-individualized searches, and prohibit an increase in police presence at LAUSD campuses. Since it was implemented twenty-six years ago, this insidious policy has wreaked havoc on student morale and trust. It has disproportionately targeted Black, Latinx, and Muslim students, further criminalized them, and siphoned off valuable class time in schools that are already over-policed and under-resourced. Instead of yielding weapons or “dangerous objects”, random searches gave overzealous adults license to harass students and confiscate personal items such as feminine hygiene products, sharpies, and other benign miscellany. To counter this climate, the resolution directs the district to promote Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support initiatives based on restorative justice methodology.
That said, the majority of the district’s high schools do not have restorative justice counselors. And the overall LAUSD budget for restorative justice was around $10.8 million in 2016. By contrast, the district has allocated millions more to school police, weaponry and surveillance systems. In 2016, the school board approved a 14% increase in funding for police, bringing its pot to over $67 million. It is currently the fifth largest police department in L.A. According to the L.A. School Report, the increases were due to “salary, healthcare benefits and pension payments”. Nonetheless, the district claims to be dedicated to a full rollout of restorative justice programming by the 2019-2020 school year.
Ending random searches is a monumental shift toward improving the mental health, wellbeing, and self-determination of LAUSD students. Nationwide, queer, nonbinary, and trans students of color are also disproportionately targeted by these harsh discipline policies.
Another resolution before the board (authored by board members Kelly Gonez, Monica Garcia and Nick Melvoin) would boost resources and support for LGBQI students. One key provision ensures that all-gender restrooms would be available on every LAUSD campus (as opposed to just high school campuses) to accommodate nonbinary and transgender students and preempt transphobic harassment. The resolution would also provide professional development training for faculty, staff, and administrators on LGBTQI youth empowerment and support. Despite the significant increase in youth between the ages of 8 and 18 who identify as nonbinary, most LAUSD K-8 schools lack curricula, support resources, and targeted outreach for queer students. A GLSEN survey my students and I conducted at one LAUSD South L.A. school found that a majority of youth had not seen positive images of LGBTQI figures in their textbooks (despite California’s forerunning efforts to embed LGBTQI social history into school curricula), were not familiar with adult allies who were supportive of LGBTQI youth on campus, and were unaware of student groups like the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). Moreover, according to a Human Rights Campaign survey, 77% of African American queer youth heard negative statements about their identities from family, while only 19% said they could be themselves at home, and only 26% had an “ally” family member. In an era where LGBTQI families are increasingly under fire by the Trump administration’s repeal of Obama-era non-discrimination protections on health care, gender identification, and transgender military enlistment, actively pro-LGBTQI school-based policies and resolutions are critical, but they’re merely the first step toward visibility and agency. Tuesday’s resolution proposes the creation of Anti-Bullying Awareness Program pilots with a specific emphasis on culturally responsive support resources for queer, transgender, and nonbinary youth. To urge school board members to vote for the pending resolutions or to get involved with the pilot program contact the LAUSD School Board @ https://boe.lausd.net/contacts