A week before the Kern High School District is set to vote on the final budget for the 2020-21 school year, the Kern Education Justice Collaborative launched a week of action, calling to defund the District’s police department.
Last week, the Week of Action called on supporters to join the movement by spreading the message on social media, learning more about the effects of having police in schools, and pushing the organization’s petition, which had more than 2,800 signatures, as of Monday morning.
Although the District is set to vote on a final budget Monday, it adopted a preliminary budget in June that funded the district’s police department. As of the 2018-19 school year, the district employed 28 officers, one lieutenant, and once chief of police. The district’s budget for its police department was around $4 million – less than 1 percent of the budget, according to KHSD.
The preliminary vote sparked the Week of Action as a way to convince KHSD Board Trustees to defund the police and put the money to other services.
“I think the biggest thing we want is for school board members to really hear the community to hear about how parents and youth are redefining school safety and to really keep in mind and consider the priorities that the Kern High School District should have,” said Cecilia Castro, the education policy director for the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
KEJC is calling to use the funds for more mental health services, including counselors, school psychologists, social workers, and nurses.
KHSD currently employs 310 individuals dedicated to addressing the mental, emotional, and academic well being of students. These positions include school counselors, social workers, school psychologists, interventionists, mental health clinicians and more. The district’s budget for these support professionals is around $35 million, which is about 7.7 percent of the district’s overall 2018-19 budget.
“The Kern High School District has a deep and ongoing commitment to the health and well-being of its students and allocates significant resources annually toward aiding students in all aspects of academic achievement, social and emotional development,” said Erin Briscoe-Clarke told Kern Sol News in June.
However, KEJC says more can be done. According to the KHSD 2019-20 LCAP, KHSD has six nurses for nearly 40,000 students. The district’s counselor ratio is 328 students per school counselor, according to KEJC. Other ratios include 1,628 students per social worker; 1,503 students per school psychologist; and 1,954 students per mental health clinician.
Castro said mental health support services are more crucial than before.
“Especially right now with distance learning, students do have those services and supports that they need during a time that’s going to be very hard to continue with their distance learning,” Castro said. “So it’s very important that they use those $4 million on these services that are going to go to improving the academic outcomes of the students that they serve.”
During last week’s Week of Action, KEJC also advocated for the district to hire a more diverse teaching staff, implement an ethnic studies program, and eliminate law enforcement from PBIS practices.
The day of action was intended to be on Aug. 3; however, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has been delayed until further notice.
“We are holding off on the day of action until we find out whether it’s going to be safe enough for students to attend,” said Castro.
At the Board meeting in June, a number of comments were made in support of both defunding the department and continuing it. Many parents and staff said the police department keeps the campus and student body safe, while many parents said the officers contribute to a poor school climate.
The District is set to vote on its final budget Monday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and can be viewed on the District’s YouTube channel. The District is also expected to discuss an ethnic studies program at Monday’s meeting.
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.