Black Male Institute: New Research Brief on Keeping Students Safe in LA Schools

BMI researchers led by Elianny Edwards highlight the need for more response from mental health providers and school nurses, less from school police.

A new analysis by the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies details an exponential increase in the numbers of incidents related to mental health in the LAUSD, such as  suicidal behavior, that require response from individuals with expertise in mental health and social emotional challenges, namely more counselors and social workers, rather than police intervention. Amid calls across the nation for changes in policing in schools and communities, the brief also highlights an increase of funding for Los Angeles school police despite a decline in student enrollment the past decade. The research brief also details views of Black students about their safety, and negative perceptions of school police. The briefs authors recommend that the LAUSD decrease funding from school policing to hire more mental health providers and nurses

“Our analysis finds a 906 percent increase in reported incidents such as suicidal behavior and trauma. We believe those are issues best responded to by school counselors, said Elianny Edwards, a graduate researcher at the UCLA Black Male Institute. “There is an obvious and increasing need for more mental health providers.”

The brief, Keeping Students Safe in Los Angeles, analyses LAUSD School Incident Reports (ISTAR) between 2011-2019, documenting 56 types of incidents, and categorizing them into five responder categories based on the school department/personnel most equipped to respond to the incident, including district personnel, school leadership, police, counselors and nurses. According to the analysis, since 2011, incidents best responded to by school counseling have increased from 1143 in 2011 to 11,493 in 2018-2019. 

The analysis also finds that since the 2005-2006 school year, while the LAUSD has experienced an 18 percent decrease in student enrollment, the budget for school police has increased by 48 percent. 

“While our data on the LASPD budget are estimations, they still point to an ongoing trend that the LASPD budget is growing while the student population that they are supporting is declining. Today, there are 130,000 less students in LAUSD than in 2005,” Earl Edwards, a graduate researcher at the UCLA Black Male Institute said. 

The brief also shows that while Black and Latinx students make up 82 percent of the student population in the LAUSD, they do not feel as safe as their white peers. Fifty-eight percent of Black and Latinx students say they feel safe, compared to 75 percent of white students. (California School Climate, Health, and Learning Survey (CALSCHLS) 3.

The research brief also shows that Black LAUSD students have negative perceptions of school police officers. In response to a survey of 291 Black students in the LAUSD conducted by the community organization Brothers, Sons, Selves, 67 percent of respondents said school police escalated situations, 73 percent said police were overly aggressive, and 60 percent claimed school police were rude. 

“This research shows us an exponential change in the number of incidents such as suicidal behavior by students that would better be served by a school counselor, or mental health therapist,” said UCLA Professor Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the Black Male Institute, who also leads the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families, and will assume directorship of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools beginning on July 1.

“At a time when real changes are needed to address the racism and overly aggressive policing that so dramatically impacts Black and Latino students in communities across the nation, the LAUSD can help to lead the way by making changes that prioritize school counseling over school policing.”

The research brief offers specific recommendations, including hiring more school counselors and reallocating school police funding to prioritize the physical and mental health of students. The authors also encourage school leaders to listen to Black students and make investments that make Black students feel safe. 

Visit these links to read about Elianny Edwards and her BMI research in The Los Angeles Times and Education Week.

The research brief, Keeping Students Safe in Los Angeles, can be viewed online on UCLA Black Male Institute website and on the Sudikoff Public Forum website.

Media contact: John McDonald,  jmcdonald@gseis.ucla.edu