LANCASTER — Three Antelope Valley Union High School District alumni are calling on the District to end its partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The students — Omar Gomez, Evelyn Arellano and Tyra Wallace — are part of a group of alumni who are organizing to try to end deputies’ presence on school campuses.
An online petition in support of the effort had 1,173 signatures as of Sunday.
“We believe that their presence creates a hostile environment for our students that perpetuates into the school-to-prison pipeline,” Gomez wrote in an email.
All three students graduated in 2017. Gomez and Arellano graduated from Antelope Valley High School, Wallace from Eastside High School. Gomez attends Stanford University, Wallace attends the University of California, Los Angeles, and Arellano attends the University of California, Berkeley.
The student activists were motivated to act following worldwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis.
Floyd’s death came 12 days after the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician, was fatally shot in her apartment by Louisville Metro Police Department plainclothes officers executing a no-knock warrant. The Louisville police said that they only fired their weapons after they were first fired upon by Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.
The continued protests prompted calls by activists in cities such as Minneapolis and Louisville to defund the police and redirect the resources to community programs. The Minneapolis City Council on June 7 announced plans to disband the city’s police department and invest in community-based public safety programs.
According to Wallace, another member of their group suggested they do something in their own community.
“We see the steps that other people are doing in other communities to sort of defund the police because there is a lot bias and issues during this topic,” Wallace said during a group Zoom chat with Gomez and Arellano.
They created an action plan and got started. They and about two dozen other people submitted letters to the District Board of Education calling for an end to the partnership between the District and the Sheriff’s Department. Those letters were read at the Board’s June 11 meeting.
The campaign is on social media on Twitter @nocopsavschools and Instagram @nocopsav
“It was kind of ignited by the George Floyd protests, but it was also something I feel like had been in the back of our minds for a while, where if we know there is systemic racism and it’s kind of perpetrated by the police,” Arellano said. “It’s always been something where we don’t want cops in schools. Now we see everyone in the community mobilizing to actually make this happen. It was time to execute this.”
Gomez thinks people are afraid to talk about the issue.
“Now more than ever people really need to understand that these things can happen,” Gomez said.
Oakland Unified School District, which has its own police department, could phase out its police department. Oakland Unified’s Board of Education introduced a resolution named after Floyd at its June 11 meeting to phase out the department and redirect the funding, about $6 million, to social workers and restorative justice coordinators.
Activists and students in Los Angeles Unified School District also called for the District to defund the police.
The AV Union High School District spends about $1.7 million a year on school resource officers.
“I feel that there’s so much money that can be used for other things, like resources for students,” Garcia said. “We definitely need to use that money and invest in students.”
Garcia said getting deputies away from schools will go a long way to help students not feel like criminals.
“It’s almost in a sense I feel like an obvious choice,” Wallace said. “With a $1.7 million budget we could really allocate that to other places.”
For example, Wallace would like to reduce the ratio of counselors to students. According to EdSource, the ratio of counselors to students is 622 to one, while the recommended ratio is 250 to one.
“People ask, ‘Why are communities of color doing so much worse statistically?’ ” Wallace said. “Well, it’s because they’re not being given the tools. They’re not being given the resources. So why don’t we use those resources other schools have the privilege to have?”
AV Union High School District officials said the school resource officers serve a variety of roles for the District. Those are:
• Serve as community liaison between school and sheriff department.
• Create positive relationships with students and staff, modeling the importance of strong community/law enforcement partnerships.
• Assist families with law enforcement issues/concerns.
• Partner with school site safety directors and campus supervisors to ensure campus safety and security.
• Serve as direct connection to emergency response agencies for service- medical emergencies, mental health emergencies, etc.
• Serve as a direct connection to report suspected child abuse.
• Conduct threat assessments, including social media threats, faculty/staff reported concerns, etc.
• Assist school safety team in conducting drills and exercises related to school emergencies including active shooter response and earthquake.
• Assist students interested in a career in law enforcement by connecting them to explorer programs and other opportunities.
• If a crime is committed on campus, investigate and issue citation as applicable.
“Our District has appreciated a long-standing partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department for more than 20 years,” the District said in a statement. “Our school resource officers are much more than a law enforcement presence on campus, rather an integral part of our school communities. They have always been our first responders and at the ready to support the needs of students and staff alike.
“That being said, we have heard the concerns about school resource officers on campuses in our local community, as well as throughout the nation. We want to reiterate our commitment to ensuring that all students feel safe on our campuses. We are thoughtfully reviewing the concerns presented.”