Backlash in Los Angeles Against Schools Being High-security Fortresses

(Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor)
(Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor)

Vitaly refuses to use a metal detector on his students.

The educator runs the Culver City site for Central High School, a Los Angeles Unified School District continuation school for students at risk of dropping out. To engage his class of ninth- through 12th-graders – all of whom identify as people of color and working class or low-income – Vitaly says he has to earn their trust.

Complying with the district policy to conduct random searches with a metal detector wand, he says, would do just the opposite.

“On my campus, there has never been a violent incident,” says Vitaly, who goes by one name. “Here they are, supposedly high school dropouts, and they’re learning, bettering themselves. They’re doing what the system hasn’t been able to make them do in traditional schools. They relax and let their guard down.”

“And I’m supposed to search them with metal detectors?” he asks. “That’s the most counterintuitive, counterproductive thing I could dream up. I would be like all the other adults in their lives that have traumatized them.”

Vitaly is one educator in a coalition of teacher’s unions, charter schools, civil rights groups, and educational organizations across Los Angeles that is urging the district to revise its school security policy, which calls for daily, random metal detector and locker searches at all L.A. Unified secondary and co-located charter schools.

The request, school safety analysts say, is part of an ongoing debate over how to protect students in an era of violence without turning campuses into fortresses. The question is central to a broader nationwide struggle to reconcile zero-tolerance policies in the juvenile and criminal justice systems with those that focus on community engagement and relationship-building, they say.

“There’s an inherent tension between beefed-up security on one end of the rope and maintaining a welcoming, supportive school climate on the other,” says Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant who runs National School Safety and Security Services, a private consulting firm based in Cleveland.

In the wake of high-profile mass shootings like the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the tension between the two sides tends to escalate, Mr. Trump says.

“That’s a very tense tightrope to have to walk,” he notes. “We’re still struggling to find that balance.”

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SOURCE: Jessica Mendoza 
Christian Science Monitor