In the early 1990s, five students at an East Los Angeles middle school were killed n incidents off campus during a violent period when there were regular student fights, attacks on teachers and tensions fueled by the L.A. riots. In 2011, after a shooting at a high school, the school district mandated daily searches at every middle and high school. Now, 26 years after the wanding policy was introduced and amid years of pressure from advocates and student activists to end the practice — the nation’s second-largest school district will eliminate the policy by July 2020. Even during a time of heightened anxiety spurred by mass school shootings elsewhere, the stance by the Los Angeles Unified School District on random searches has been unique, the Los Angeles Times reports. Of the nation’s 15 largest districts, it’s the only one to require daily random searches, says the American Civil Liberties Union.
Critics saw the policy as punitive and a barrier to the social-justice lens that many schools have adopted. In a district where the majority of students are nonwhite, critics argued that the search methods aren’t neutral and disproportionately affect black, Latino and Muslim students, potentially involving them at an early age in the criminal justice system. The Los Angeles city attorney recommended that the district suspend the searches and conduct an audit to determine whether they are effective and truly random. A coalition called Students not Suspects, which includes the ACLU of Southern California, United Teachers Los Angeles and Black Lives Matter, has long said L.A. Unified does not enforce the policy equally and cites the district’s own limited data showing the searches yield more confiscations of contraband, such as markers and body sprays, than guns and knives. A Times analysis showed that random searches occasionally yield knives and pepper spray, but no guns.