CA’s largest district bans use of random wand searches

CA’s largest district bans use of random wand searches

(Calif.) Following years of requests made by students and advocacy groups, the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education voted last week to end the practice of random searches using handheld metal detectors on campuses.

With passage of the resolution, district superintendent Austin Beutner is expected to develop an alternative plan by 2020 for school safety that eliminates the use of random searches–which many have argued is ineffective and reliant on racial profiling.

Board members called the decision a positive step toward reducing the policing of LAUSD students.

“School safety is foundational to our work,” board member Kelly Gonez said in a statement. “And as a Board we’ve taken a number of steps–including today–to ensure our campuses are safe and secure. Random searches, however, erode the supportive environment we strive to create at our schools.”

After each instance of gun violence on school grounds throughout the country, local and state policymakers often look to tighten security measures in an effort to prevent the next on-campus shooting.

More districts in recent years have begun requiring that students wear identification badges at all times, while others have increased the presence of school security guards or mental health professionals.

Meanwhile, districts in states such as New York and Nevada have ramped up the use of random searches with the help of metal detectors in an effort to deter students from bringing weapons on campus.

The use of metal detectors in Los Angeles schools has been a point of contention for some time. In 2016, a letter sent from a diverse coalition of 40 organizations and individuals including Green Dot Public Schools, Teach for America and Parents Advocate League argued that restorative justice practices would be better suited to address the issue of weapons on campus than metal detectors.

The board had decided in 2013 to implement restorative justice–which can include mediation or group discussions to resolve conflict–in all schools by 2020.

Student groups and equal rights organizations called on the district to drop the use of metal detectors and random searches again in 2017

They argued that the searches did little to keep weapons off school grounds, but that they foster a perception of a police-state environment that erodes school trust between students and staff, and often target students of color.

Indeed, researchers at the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida found in 2016 that campuses with larger populations of students of color are far more likely to use more intense surveillance techniques that include a mix of metal detectors, random sweeps, and the employment of school police and security guards.

Members from organizations including the ACLU of Southern California, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Public Counsel and Students Deserve called on board members to replace the random metal detector policy with expanded safe passage programs, additional school counselors and wraparound services such as school physical and mental health clinics.

Last week’s decision to develop an alternative safety plan in lieu of conducting random searches was applauded by board vice president Nick Melvoin, who said the current random metal detector policy perpetuates over-policing and makes many students feel less secure and ready to learn in school, rather than making them feel safer.

Dissenting board members, however, expressed concern that no alternative plan for deterring students from bringing weapons to school was adopted prior to ending the use of handheld metal detectors.

“We have not done an extensive enough analysis of the pilot program to come to the conclusion that it is not effective,” board member George J. McKenna III said. “I would like to see the pilot program fully implemented and evaluated before making a firm decision on suspending the random search practice without offering a viable alternative.”

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