By Barron Gardner
Teacher, AVUHS District
George Floyd’s murder, and the ensuing uprisings across the country, accelerated youth activism in the Antelope Valley. Young people around the valley organized to demand answers in the questionable death of Robert Fuller, and justice for the deaths of Michael Thomas and Terron Boone at the hands of Lancaster Sheriffs. Former AVUHSD students demanded the removal of police from our schools, as we have seen across the country. One year later, we’re still fighting to cancel the contract the school district has with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), and replace it with meaningful support and services for our students.
There is no evidence that the presence of police on school campuses benefits students, nor is there any indication that there is any inherent benefit for high-need students in particular. In the Antelope Valley Union High School District, 18,314 students fall into one of the high-needs categories Local Control Funding Formula identifies (foster youth, low socioeconomic status, or English learners). Local Control Accountability Plans submitted by AVUHSD from 2016 to 2021 show that the district has spent nearly $9 million dollars on a contract with the Sheriff’s Department to provide a deputy on each school campus. The law requires that these funds be used to address the needs of high-needs students by providing targeted support, services and programming specifically designed for their benefit. The LASD contract does not fit this criteria.
The presence of law enforcement on campus is triggering to many of our students, especially given the graphic violence they see on the part of police on social media and that some have seen in their private lives. I’ve had students tell me personal stories through tears about how they and their families have been treated by police in the community. There are stories of police presence triggering and escalating special education students on our campuses, with one being detained outside while his mother waited on campus for 90 minutes before receiving an update on his well-being. One young lady was obviously distraught due to a case of alleged abuse by a teacher and ended up in handcuffs.
What I am proposing is not just the end of the contract with LASD, but a paradigm shift away from policing and reactive policies that target our most vulnerable students. Our students need mental health support, counseling and conflict resolution skills. How can we be prepared to arrest these kids if we have not provided them with the necessary social and emotional support? With the $1.7 million annually that we spend on school policing, we can begin this shift and redirect those dollars to programs that positively affect the development of our students at high risk for arrest, as is being done in Oakland. We have an officer for each campus, but why can’t we replace them with “climate coaches” to mentor students and resolve conflicts, as we see in Los Angeles?
In this time of renewed action around race and equity, both in our district and across the nation, we cannot uphold diversity and equity as values in our district while partnering with a law enforcement agency that remains in blatant violation of those principles. To quote my colleague, and Co-Chair of our Cancel the Contract: Antelope Valley coalition, Beth Cayetano: “Our AV schools are in disrepair and we see Black and Brown students being targeted. The Sheriff’s contract with the district should not be renewed, instead community leaders and students want to see those funds reinvested in school counselors, nurses, librarians, wrap-around services, and after school programs.”
About the author: Barron Gardner is a local advocate and teacher in the Antelope Valley Union High School District.