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LAUSD will strengthen school safety plans, joins calls for stricter gun control laws

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | March 13, 2018

At Tuesday’s board meeting, 17 seats were taped off to honor the 17 lives lost at last month’s school shooting in Florida.

Inspired by students’ activism and echoing their demands, the nation’s second-largest school district committed Tuesday to do “everything in its power” to ensure students’ safety.

After hearing from a procession of students, LA Unified’s school board unanimously passed a resolution calling for stricter gun laws and stronger school safety policies.

Tuesday’s vote came one day before LA students will join thousands nationwide for school walkouts in the wake of last month’s Florida school shooting.

“Our actions will speak volumes tomorrow,” said student board member Benjamin Holtzman before joining all seven members of the board in approving the resolution. “We will create a total wave of activism across the nation if we commit to hosting daily activities in the honor of the lost lives due to gun violence.”

“We want security, but also serenity for our kids,” said board Vice President Nick Melvoin, who authored the resolution, “Safeguarding Our Schools: Demanding Common Sense Gun Laws and Best Practices to Protect our Students and Staff.”

The resolution calls for the creation within 180 days of a Safe Schools Task Force comprised of students, parents, teachers, school administrators, law enforcement agencies, and community organizations who will meet quarterly and make recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness of district-wide security policies.

It also calls on the federal government to “immediately pass common sense gun reform legislation, including banning assault weapons and large capacity magazines, universal background checks, and licensing and training gun owners, increasing funding for student mental health services to identify and rehabilitate at-risk youth as well as increasing funding for school emergency preparedness.”

The resolution opposes arming teachers, which President Trump is pushing. “No educator should have to bear the additional load of ensuring safety from gun violence on top of the tremendous responsibility to provide excellent instruction and social-emotional support to our students,” it reads.

“We need to keep arms out of schools. Students want to be away from guns outside and feel safe inside school. I’m totally against arming teachers. I teach in a high school, any of my students could take a weapon from me, some are stronger than me,” said Kirsten Farrell, a teacher at Venice Senior High School who was named a 2018 California Teacher of the Year, told the board.

“I think students are going to change the narrative on gun control discussion. It’s a conversation that we must have nationally.”

Amanda Kogan, a parent at Canfield Elementary, told the board the resolution was an “essential call to action” to ensure safety for students and urged other parents to have a real voice in the 90-day review process of the new safety plan.

Within 30 days, the superintendent must present to the board the current district policies on gun violence prevention and administrative procedures for active gunfire incidents, and the steps that the district will take to move toward greater student safety.

Within 90 days, the district is to develop strategies to achieve the goal of ensuring safe school communities that are prepared with best practices for emergency scenarios, including site drills that are age-appropriate for students and physical school safety site assessments.

LA School Police Chief Steven Zipperman said at the meeting that the school police’s commitment to parents is “that when you drop them off in our schools you will see your children back when you get home. We have (resources) that other school districts around the country don’t have, but we can always do better.”

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer also spoke at the meeting about creating strategies to keep guns away from school campuses and preventing gun violence by supporting individuals with mental health issues. Last week, Feuer announced he is forming a school safety panel with civic leaders, educators, and law enforcement experts as well as students. The panel will hold public hearings across the city this spring.

Also Tuesday, Assemblyman Jim Cooper introduced a state bill that would strengthen counseling support at California’s 1,400 middle schools and junior high schools. The bill proposes that Californians who buy guns or ammunition would have to pay a new fee to fund more counselors and safety officers at schools.

Board President Mónica García, who co-authored the resolution along with board member Kelly Gonez, said, “Today’s motion is about supporting our young people in joining voices across the country demanding change. Part of being safe is beyond weapons but also creating spaces where we can be heard.”

Melvoin accompanied the resolution by putting up an online petition calling for common sense gun laws, which has received almost 2,000 signatures, exceeding a goal of 1,500. “We received signatures in support not only from LA, but from all over the country and from around the world,” he said.

In honor of the 17 people who lost their lives in last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian announced the district is launching a “17 acts of kindness” campaign. All employees and students are encouraged to show kindness by performing 17 simple expressions of love, appreciation, and concern for others this month.

“LAUSD will be creating videos throughout the district on the acts of kindness that we’ll play throughout the school year in our schools and send to Washington,” Ekchian said.

On Wednesday as thousands of students from the #Enough: National School Walkout movement demonstrate in Washington, D.C., García, Melvoin and board member George McKenna will also be in the capital advocating for reforms to accelerate achievement, including school and student safety.

The LA Unified board’s action comes as students throughout the district, as well as at independent charter schools and private schools, prepared to join Wednesday’s protests with a wide variety of activities, most of them in-campus demonstrations such as moments of silence and student assemblies.

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