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Daily weapons searches: LAUSD to reassess its policy

Mike Szymanski | August 9, 2017

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LA Unified administrators plan to review a controversial plan that requires all middle schools and high schools to perform random searches every day of student lockers and to scan students with metal-detector wands.

School board President Ref Rodriguez said Superintendent Michelle King contacted his office on Monday to discuss the issue and review the district’s procedures that King herself signed off on when she was an assistant superintendent in 2011.

“I spoke to the superintendent about doing a deep, deep dive on this issue,” Rodriguez said Tuesday after King’s “State of the District” speech. “We are doing this in public and will get all perspectives to inform everyone what we might do district-wide.”

One of the options, Rodriguez said, could be a pilot program that would amend the mandatory policy that has resulted in protests and demonstrations at past school board meetings.

• Read more: Exclusive: More kids will be searched for weapons at LAUSD schools this year

The board remains divided on the subject.

Board member George McKenna, who saw a student die in his arms after a campus shooting that was depicted in a movie starring Denzel Washington, said, “Wanding and searching the students has saved lives. I know it has. It is important to keep up the policy.”

McKenna added, “I think it is outside groups that have riled up the children thinking it’s against their civil liberties or some such nonsense. If it is truly random, and it has worked, then it is for the safety of all children in our schools.”

On the other hand, newcomer to the board Nick Melvoin reiterated Tuesday his opposition to the searches. He cited the many principals who are against the policy, which is usually carried out by administrators and teachers. He also noted that many charter schools, including those that are co-located on campuses with district schools, have uniformly signed on to protest the policy and simply refuse to do it.

After her speech Tuesday, King said that safety in schools continues to be her top priority.

“The district is a leader in keeping children safe in schools, and we are reevaluating all of our procedures,” King said. “We make sure that parents have to check in at the front, and that we have only one entrance to the school.”

An article in LA School Report last month noted that administrators said they would be cracking down on principals to follow the policy after an internal audit by LA Unified’s Office of Inspector General showed that schools have made little progress with daily random wanding over the past three years.

“We need to remind principals of the requirements of these policies,” said Darneika Watson, the new executive director for the Division of Operations who is responsible for making sure the schools comply with the random searches. She cited a significant drop in expulsions and suspensions because of the random searches as well as restorative justice conflict-resolution programs. She also said it would take a community effort and board input to change the long-standing policy.

Vitaly, a teacher at Central High School Mar Vista Gardens, said he has been working behind the scenes with administrators to help change the procedures and has a petition he plans to present to the school board.

It was surprising to me to see in the LA School Report that they wanted to emphasize this policy that only scares our children more, Vitaly said. I think the district is going to have to really re-think this, especially in a time when our children are more scared than ever by outside forces. I think it is time that they trust our children more and end this ridiculous policy.

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