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L.A. Unified board votes to end random student searches

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 6/19/2019 Sonali Kohli
a group of people sitting at a table © Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles school leaders voted Tuesday to end a policy of randomly searching students with metal detectors during the school day, a decades-old practice that a coalition of students and advocates has been trying to eliminate for years.

More than 100 student activists and community advocates — part of a coalition called Students Not Suspects that includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, United Teachers Los Angeles, and Public Counsel, among others — swarmed the L.A. Unified school board meeting to speak against the policy.

They have long said that school officials do not enforce the policy equally and cite the district’s own limited data showing that the searches yield more confiscations of contraband like markers and body sprays than they do guns and knives.

The policy’s supporters, however, say the low numbers of weapons seized show the searches are effective.

Tuesday’s resolution calls for the superintendent to end the searches by July 2020, and to come up with an alternative policy that would avoid an increased police presence at schools. Under the current policy, administrators search students.

The district began random searches in 1993, after a 16-year-old was shot and killed at Fairfax High School followed a month later by another student death from a shooting at Reseda High School. In 2011, after two students were injured in a shooting at Gardena High School, the district required that searches at middle schools and high schools be conducted daily.

Board members Monica Garcia, Jackie Goldberg, Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin voted in favor of the resolution, as did student board member Tyler Okeke, whose vote is advisory.

The resolution’s supporters said that administrators should be able to search students with reasonable suspicion, but that pulling students out of class causes more harm than good.

“It’s contradictory to the values of this organization … of trying to make every student feel welcome at our schools to continue having random searches,” Gonez said.

The three board members who have been school principals — George McKenna, Richard Vladovic and Scott Schmerelson — voted against it.

Vladovic said he wanted more legal counsel on potential litigation costs should the district eliminate the policy and a student is injured.

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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