On June 18th, the LA Unified school board voted to end the district’s policy of “random” metal detector searches. This policy disrupted learning time, singled out students of color, and heightened distrust between students and administrators.
The end of this policy, which will happen officially in July 2020, is a huge victory for LA school communities and Students Deserve, the grassroots organization that worked to end the searches.
White People 4 Black Lives asked student leaders from the Students Deserve coalition to reflect on their experiences and their hopes for the future of their school communities. We interviewed: Marshe Doss, who graduated from Dorsey High School in June 2019; Amee Monroy, who will be in 12th grade at Dorsey High School this year; and Sarah Djato, who will be in the 11th grade at Dorsey High School this year.
1. Congratulations, the School Board voted to end random searches! What was it like to see the results of this hard-fought community effort?
Marshe: It was great. We in Students Deserve have been fighting for this for a really long time and it’s really amazing to see that all the outreach and late nights, early mornings have finally made a difference in hundreds of thousands of students’ lives.
Sarah: Although there is still more work to be done I am satisfied with the results. I enjoyed seeing the smiles of those who have been fighting for so long. I look forward to the changes that will be implemented in the school system.
Amee: It was incredibly gratifying to see all the hard work my peers and I put in pay off. I have been a part of this Making Black Lives Matter in Schools movement since my freshman year of high school, so I’ve been able to see our growth and finally celebrate over 3 years of fighting. We get to celebrate that we won.
2. What other school-based or community changes are you hopeful that this decision paves the way for?
Amee: When asked about school safety and what that looks like, we challenge over-policing and criminalizing our students. We instead promote a healthy environment that fosters trust between students and the administration. We do this by following the divest/invest model, and we continue to advocate for divesting in over-policing and other forms of criminalization. Winning random searches was one step in this much larger movement.
Sarah: I hope that the end of random searches leads to an increase in community and youth involvement. This can be shown through restorative justice, counseling, anything that improves students’ lifestyles in or out of campus.
Marshe: I’m hoping this win opens up many more minds to see that what the educational system is lacking as far as real safety, and team up with the community to have a real conversation and fix it. That’s why our new campaign is so important, maybe even more important than the first one. We know that people of color have a hard time getting the quality education they deserve but why exactly is that? What else contributes to the school to prison pipeline? What exactly is safety? I am really hoping that the end to random searches has people thinking about the conditions we deserve instead of the over policed environment we face.
3. What was it like being part of a largely student-led community effort? How did having students in leadership positions change the organizing experience?
Marshe: Being surrounded by people who are your peers and know exactly what you go through creates a really strong bond. I have made a lot of possibly life long friends. It has been an amazing experience. We all know each other’s struggles in a way; we’ve cried together, laughed together, led together and are changing the world together. We became one. That’s what changed the organizing experience — not only did we connect and were all on the same page, but we loved and supported one another like a family should. We as students are the only ones who know how students feel, so it’s only right that students lead the movements into changing the educational system.
Sarah: It was comforting. I’m very new to Students Deserve but having leaders that look like me and around the same age as me, pushed me to do the same as them. Seeing students that are so young having this great passion with no fear to speak in front of adults and articulate to a school board is great and I wanted to be a part of that. The perception of our generation is that we don’t understand injustice, but that is false. We are the generation whose youth stands up for what they believe in. Having these students in such leadership positions really shows how bright the future will be for those who come after, and that is what we are really fighting for. They won’t have to experience mistreatment.
Amee: I learned about horizontal organizing through this movement and we really lived it. Every student is capable of leading meetings and receives support from other students. I could not have imagined leading a meeting with School Board members or being a part of strategy meetings for historic actions like the teachers’ strike. During school hours, students are talked down to, policed, and harassed. In Students Deserve and our Making Black Lives Matter in Schools campaign we make it a point to give students the biggest voice in this movement.
4. Why do you think administrators and students have such divergent opinions on whether to end random searches? What do you think students can do to evoke more empathy and less self-interest from administrators?
Marshe: As I’ve previously stated, we are the only ones who know exactly what it feels like when a campus aid or security guard pulls us out of class and searches our things, or when a police officer is wandering around watching us, because we are the ones going through it every day. The administrators are just spectators on the outside looking in. It’s like when white people say police officers are just doing their job, not realizing that the very job they are “just doing” started hundreds of years ago from policing our ancestors. They have the privilege of not knowing the feelings that we share and so do most of the administrators. I feel that we need to create an in-depth interactive course to educate our school security and administrators so that they can try to truly understand.
Sarah: Conflict is inevitable. The communities that we live in affect our opinions. An administrator from a school located in the Castle Heights area will probably be more willing to hear the opinions of students opposed to a school in a crime-ridden area where students that come in give off a different character. I believe that the administrators have the students’ safety at best interest, but the intention to protect isn’t always executed properly. The policy that is supposed to protect the students actually targets them. I believe that students should articulate certain viewpoints to these adults by writing policies, giving statements, surveying other students, and proving that a vast majority doesn’t really believe in some rules. This will strengthen the relationship with students and administrators and could eventually lead to them becoming allies and advocates for one another.
Amee: Administrators walk through the halls of middle school and high school different than we do. They walk into classrooms with the notion that searching students will create more safety and deter weapons being brought on to campus. But when a student sees their favorite counselor asking to search their bag, they see how the school system cares about children. They choose to criminalize and defund the programs that would make students feel safer and instead spend dollars upon dollars searching them and having School Police line campuses. I have learned by now that it is not easy to change the mind of people who support these searches. The best students can do is to outline how real school safety should look like, with community schools, no police, and fight to divest from over policing, and then organize their peers in order to build the movement to make this vision a reality.
5. What was it like organizing students across such a huge school district? How did you navigate working with individual school communities within the larger LAUSD umbrella?
Amee: We hold weekly Students Deserve chapter meetings at individual schools across the district. Then we have General Assembly meetings once a month where we invite anyone involved with the organization and we share ideas and campaign plans for the campaign. We’ve been able to cast a wide net, as shown by our button campaign that reached 18,000 students at 75 schools across the district. All the youth involved are connected with each other’s numbers and social media. We stay in contact to talk about these General Assemblies and also involve them in smaller strategy meetings. The smaller strategy meetings happen 1–2 times a month. They are open to any students who want to help us think through strategy in more depth. Obviously, we also plan major forums and actions. All of the meetings are led by us student leaders. If you want to watch some videos on the actions we have taken in our Making Black Lives Matter in Schools work, (and if you want to make a donation to our work) check out https://vimeo.com/studentsdeserve
Sarah: Initially, I was scared of any possibility because of my newness to Students Deserve. It was intimidating, but getting to know other students who have gone through the same experience as me is validating, and it allowed me to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was easy for us students to understand each other despite coming from different communities. Our similarities helped us throughout the whole process and assisted in our growth and understanding of policies that held us back. It motivated us to work together.
6. In fighting for this solution, what were some of the biggest obstacles you faced?
Marshe: Joining this fight many people told us we couldn’t achieve our goal. That we were wasting our time, that the School District would never vote to end their Random Search policy. That was an obstacle. But the biggest obstacle was hearing Black and Brown people defending the policy. Engaging them, changing their minds, occasionally, ignoring them and organizing around them took a lot of work.
Sarah: Doubt would be one of the greatest obstacles. I questioned myself: Do I really believe in this? Did this really happen to me? Another obstacle was eliminating frustration. This win was a lengthy process which left me and others angry for long periods of time. When talking to students, they obviously form their own opinions. Some were actually for random searches and I did a lot of explaining. “This is what’s going on, This is why this it’s unfair,” which was exasperating at the beginning but eventually I was accustomed to being a teacher, to becoming an organizer. I had to explain to them how this harms them as well as their peers and that is when they began to dissect the policies unfairly applied at their schools.
Amee: Getting through to School Board members and other people in positions of power was the toughest part. We have been told that we were wasting our time, that we should stop while we’re ahead, that we were going to regret this. Seeing my friends and I give heartfelt testimonies only to have board members look at their phones or doodle was honestly soul-crushing. As Black and Brown students, it’s already difficult to have a voice. Being heard and being respected took a long time. Building the movement of so many students across the entire city so that they couldn’t ignore us helped us overcome (and pressure) the School Board.
7. What advice do you have to folks who are involved in other/similar grassroots organizing efforts?
Sarah: My advice would be to communicate. It is the route for all types of relationships and understandings. Lack of communication leads to detrimental effects — such as the random searches policy — and I believe once you have it amongst yourselves, your community or organization, it would allow you to progress and achieve your goals. Also, go for what you feel is right because it would eventually turn into something as great as our win! Students Deserve didn’t start by someone saying “Hey we need student activist[s].” It started out with someone expressing that they feel mistreated because they were Black, Muslim, Brown, etc. It could’ve been a teacher who believed “Students don’t feel heard. That’s an issue. Let’s get them platforms, let’s make a group.” Everything could stem from anything as long as you have a foundation.
Amee: We do this work to improve the education and lives of thousands of students. My advice would be to remember where your work comes from and why you do it, because it’s a lot of emotional labor.
Marshe: My advice would be to stand up for what you believe because nothing can get conquered in silence. Don’t be afraid to use your voice because it’s the most powerful thing you have.
Marshe Doss is a leader in Students Deserve. She graduated from Dorsey High School in June 2019.
Ameee Monroy is a leader in Students Deserve. She will be a 12th grader at Dorsey High School this year.
Sarah Djato is a newer leader in Students Deserve. She will be an 11th grader at Dorsey High School this year.
To follow Students Deserve on social media, visit:
This statement is submitted by White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL), a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles locally and the Movement for Black Lives nationally. Follow us @wp4bl on all platforms.