Hart district formalizes support of school deputies ahead of Supes’ vote

SIGNAL FILE PHOTO: School resource officer Tom Drake supervises as Saugus High School students break for lunch on Friday, August 25, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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The William S. Hart Union High School District governing board voted Wednesday to send a letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors that expresses the local district’s support of on-site law enforcement personnel. 

The unanimous vote in favor of the school resource officer, or SRO, comes just days before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors plans to consider a motion that would change the way in which the Sheriff’s Department negotiates its contracts with local school districts.  

In its current format, school boards and administrators are allowed to dictate and negotiate the terms and conditions of the contract with the Sheriff’s Department — which is then approved by the Board of Supervisors.  

For example, the Hart district has for years negotiated directly with LASD to draft and approve a contract that provides a handful of deputies covering two to three schools each. The contract, in past years, has hovered around approximately $1 million.    

However, if the motion regarding SRO’s is approved on Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, the new system would delegate the L.A. County sheriff to execute school agreements only “after obtaining approval from the inspector general.” 

Entitled “Approving School Climate and Safety” and introduced by Supervisor Holly Mitchell, the motion would enhance the Board of Supervisors’ ability to oversee the services provided to school districts within Los Angeles County, and will also ask LASD to provide the board with further data about the efficacy of the program. 

The motion also calls for an expansion of services to be made available to school districts in addition to deputies — such as mental health and behavioral specialists – who will focus on “restorative justice,” as opposed to “punitive practices,” such as citation and arrest.  

“Restorative practices can help students reflect on their actions, develop empathy, and positively impact future decisions,” the motion reads. “In partnership with (the Youth Diversion and Development Division), community-based providers offer a range of diversion services to youth that schools can use to support efforts to improve school climate and safety and equitably reduce reliance on punitive practices, including citation and arrest.” 

While supporters of the move see it as a way in which the county can enhance school/public safety while also reducing justice system involvement in young students’ lives, the trustees’ letter to the Board of Supervisors said it actually hampers their ability to ensure parents and students feel safe on their campuses.  

“We believe that educational efforts and policies should be tailored to reflect the communities and families we serve,” the letter reads. “We also believe our locally elected governing board is best positioned to determine the individual needs of our own community.” 

The Hart district letter went on to discuss the shooting at Saugus High School on Nov. 14, 2019, which resulted in the deaths of Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell, saying that the law enforcement response that day “highlighted for us the value of the collaborative relationship” between the school district and law enforcement. 

“The visible and invisible wounds caused by the Saugus shooting will never entirely heal,” the letter reads. “However, we can confidently attest that our safety resource officers have helped our community move down this road to recovery.”  

In response to the letter, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement sent to The Signal on Thursday that she applauds the district’s support of the SRO program, saying she believes the officers are “critical resources that have the capacity to effectively prevent school shootings and violence.”  

“I strongly believe that school boards and administrators should continue to be empowered to decide what school safety resources are best for their community,” Barger said. “I will continue to voice my support of school resource officers. Their training curriculum equips them with knowledge of juvenile mental health, understanding the adolescent brain and students with special needs, de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques.” 

“During times like these, we must do everything we can to ensure our schools remain safe,” Barger added. 

The regular meeting for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to begin Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. For more information on how to view the meeting or speak during the public participation portion, visit bit.ly/3aLjztT 

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