Los Angeles grassroots coalition speaks up for student safety and justice

After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, one Los Angeles grassroots coalition hopes LAUSD will stand with its mission.

With 410 officers, the LA School Police is the largest independent police department in the country, according to its website. “I feel safe until they come around in our classrooms and search us for no reason,” said Shari Price, a junior at Dorsey High School. (Photo: Sylvie Sparks)

In the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, one Los Angeles grassroots coalition is hoping the LA Unified School District will be more supportive of its mission. LA Students Deserve believes respect for students is the key to preventing gun violence.

The volunteer-led coalition focuses on solving issues of injustice in communities and schools. The group was founded in 2013 and now includes more than 300 parents, teachers and students throughout LAUSD.

“You can possibly prevent something if you notice that the kid is having a problem or something isn’t right,” said Isis Mancil, a substitute teacher at Dorsey High School in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South LA. “You can prevent something from happening just by talking to the young person and treating them like a human being.”

From 2013 to 2015, $1 million was spent on random searches at schools across the district, according to UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. School supplies accounted for more than 80 percent of seized items. (Photo: Sylvie Sparks)

Last month, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people sparked a new wave of discussion and protests about gun control and mental health issues. Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people across the country who share the same desire for gun control with LA Students Deserve members participated in the March for Our Lives to protest lack of gun control in America.

LAUSD is considering policy changes including active shooter drills and creating a task force to review schools’ safety and security plans quarterly, according to a public presentation from the Los Angeles School Board.

LA Students Deserve has been particularly active in South LA, which has more than 180 public schools, according to the LA Times.

“Our students are passionate about wanting to see a change,” said Dorsey High School teacher Sharonne Hapuarachy, an LA Students Deserve sponsor.

The coalition’s work has three areas of focus: eliminating the LA school district’s random search policy, funding community schools, and political education.

With 410 officers, the LA School Police is the largest independent police department in the country, according to its website. Since 2011 its officers have been conducting random searches at schools looking for drugs, weapons and other banned items. For Shari Price, a junior at Dorsey High School, the random searches make her feel more uncomfortable than safe.

“I feel safe until they come around in our classrooms and search us for no reason,” she said.

From 2013 to 2015, $1 million was spent on random searches at schools across the district, according to UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. The study found that no guns were seized on any LAUSD campus during that time, although officers did confiscate school supplies such as highlighters, sharpies, hand sanitizers and perfumes, claiming they could be used as inhalants. School supplies accounted for more than 80 percent of seized items.

Dorsey High School juniors Marshe Doss (left) and Shari Price (right) talk about how random searches make them feel criminalized. (Photo: Sylvie Sparks)

Dorsey High School junior, and LA Students Deserve member, Marshe Doss doesn’t think random searches belong in a school environment.

“They spend all their money treating us like criminals, but tell us to be something in life, that they want us to go far. That’s really hypocritical,” she said.

LA Students Deserve believes that if students are continuously made to feel guilty, they will be negatively affected in the future.

“If all the information that we’re soaking up is that we’re criminals, then we’re going to get out into the real world, where there’s no one there to help us, and think that we’re criminals,” Doss said.

LA Students Deserve is also working to implement the community school model within LAUSD, which would provide additional counseling and psychiatric services to high-needs schools.

High-needs schools are usually defined as having several unfilled teacher positions and low-income students, according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Other school districts throughout the U.S. and Canada use the community school model.

“I think safety also means you can come to school and feel like a respected student and a human and not feel like you’re being treated like a criminal,” said Dorsey High School teacher Sharonne Hapuarachy, an LA Students Deserve sponsor. (Photo: Sylvie Sparks)

Hapuarachy said the community school model helps create an environment of trust on campus and fosters healthy relationships between staff and students.

“I think safety also means you can come to school and feel like a respected student and a human and not feel like you’re being treated like a criminal,” Hapuarachy said.

LA Students Deserve members said they they will continue to organize until they feel justice is met. The group meets monthly at various LAUSD high schools to discuss its hopes for reformed protocol in schools and is funded by donations.

“The issue isn’t whether or not there are social media alerts, wanding or metal detectors available at every school,” said Robyn Charles, Dorsey High School Director of Career Technical Arts. “The issue is, at its core, the mindset of the child.”

Like many of her classmates, Doss is unhappy with the school district’s current safety protocol.

“They’re turning our school into a prison instead of turning it into an education,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article and headline incorrectly described LA Students Deserve. The group is a volunteer-led grassroots coalition, not a non-profit organization.