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Readers respond: Do LAUSD’s random weapons searches help or harm students?

Guest contributor | September 7, 2017

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By Carol Arocha

Random wanding has prevented some students from harming others. The weapons may not be guns or bombs, but have no doubt, handmade knives (shanks), clubs, brass knuckles, pepper spray, and other such instruments have been found and removed, saving children from physical harm.

Wanding has helped administrators remove drugs and alcohol from students’ backpacks and lockers.

As teachers and administrators, we are limited as to the amount of scrutiny we can impose on students.

If parents really want to feel secure about their children’s moral and physical well-being, they must step up to the plate and conduct these inspections themselves. Random inspections of their own children’s backpacks, bedrooms, cars, and computers will open their eyes to their own kids’ behaviors — good and bad.

Being a pro-active parent does not make a parent bad. It makes them a smart, responsible, and caring parent.

Carol Arocha is a retired LAUSD assistant principal.

Angela James (courtesy photo)

By Angela James

As a parent in LAUSD, the decision to send my children to public schools was a major one. My own public school experiences, combined with my sense of civic responsibility and the ridiculous tuition costs, certainly influenced by ex-husband and myself in our decision. I am currently an organizer with Schools LA Students Deserve. This short note is in response to some of the comments made on these pages in response to presentations made by teachers engaged with us in our efforts to remove the criminalizing, and educationally barren practice of random wanding.

As soon as I learned that random searches that interrupt class time were being conducted in LAUSD, I instructed my children that I believed they had the right to resist ANY incursions upon their person and that I, as their parent, would back them up. Even as I crafted this individual solution, I realized that the many layers of academic and emotional damage brought on by this practice could not be undone by individual resistance. In fact, I worried that my own offer of support would result in further anxiety. My children and I became involved with Students Deserve because we realized collective problems require collective solutions.

I had no idea about random searches because charter schools in LAUSD, smaller districts, and certainly private schools do not have to conduct them. When one of my children decided to transfer to the local school in our community, I found out how different the experience of schooling could be. At schools like Palisades in a wealthy community, and now a charter school, there are no random searches and you can keep your highlighters and hand sanitizers, while schools like Dorsey in my own community subject students to prison-like conditions.

The basic fact that “random” necessarily means unannounced and unscheduled should immediately suggest the academic harm. Teachers are asked to interrupt lessons, students are asked to take a “commercial break” from instructional time, to line up and submit to this humiliating and useless practice. ALL students at the school are subject to this practice, and the message given by these searches is unmistakable: a student’s education is entirely secondary to our fear of them as potential criminals. The district is asking us to accept them acting as parental representatives and, like them, be motivated by the FEAR OF OUR CHILDREN as criminals.

The crazy-making part of the rationalization used to justify this practice is the claim that this practice is necessary to keep our children safe. The claim that random searches are necessary to keep our children safe is not backed up by ANY empirical evidence. In fact, statistics suggest that young people and social violence have actually not changed very much in the past 30 years. School violence involving guns has always been extremely rare, and it remains so.

What has changed? Fear mongers trot out stories of grieving parents like those at Sandy Hook or some other mass shooting. The tear-stained white faces of parents in Connecticut are used to convince black and brown parents across Los Angeles Unified School District that our children’s education and psychological well-being do not matter as much as their safety.

Make no mistake about it, neither wealthy and whiter districts in our region nor private schools require their students to submit to this. Schools are one of the most powerful institutions society uses to prepare and socialize young people for their future roles in society. National data very clearly show that race, even when controlling for differing levels of student misbehavior and crime, is what really explains the use of intrusive security measures at schools. No systemic studies indicating violence reduction, and NO studies of the academic impact of this practice, have ever been conducted.

This policy, and all it represents, is simply unacceptable. We cannot allow our children to be socialized for lives where the academic and social development of black and brown children are deemed not as important as misguided fears about school safety.

Angela James is an LAUSD parent and an organizer with Students Deserve and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.

• Read LA School Report’s coverage of random wanding: 

Daily weapons searches: LAUSD to reassess its policy

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

Calls mount to end mandatory random searches at LA schools

Exclusive: Loaded gun found at school during random wanding search; charters want practice ended

Security Gets a Boost Throughout LA Unified Schools

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