Bill to Improve School Climate Sweeps through Assembly Education Committee

For Immediate Release
May 3, 2013
For More Information Contact:
Hanif Houston (510) - 684 - 0322

Sacramento, CA – Assembly Bill 549, authored by Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), passed the Assembly Education Committee with unanimous bi-partisan support on Wednesday. The bill strengthens school safety by requiring school districts to better define the roles of specific school faculty on campus, including police officers, and encourages schools to use safety funding to invest in personnel and programs that build positive school climate.

“School safety is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue—it is a human issue, and the broad support this bill received is a testament to that fact,” said Assemblymember Jones Sawyer. “Parents need to know that their children will have access to a high quality education in a safe school environment, no matter where that school is located. I applaud my colleagues for their support, and I look forward to working with them as this bill moves through the Legislature.”

“The victory in the Assembly Education Committee really belongs to the youth,” said Jamila Iris Edwards, Northern California Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California. “Youth have been leading this effort from the very beginning, and they spent hours before the hearing visiting member’s offices, recounting their traumatic encounters with school police, and explaining the rich rewards they have gained from school counselors and restorative justice circles.” 

“This is not just another bill, but a call to action,” said Elmo Gomez of Community Rights Campaign, who testified before the committee. “This is a golden opportunity to improve conditions for all students by focusing on the types of adults and programs at school that actually reach youth in a meaningful way.” 

AB 549 will require school districts within their school safety plans to better define the roles of mental health professionals, school resource officers and police on campus. The bill will also encourage school and school districts to use campus safety funding for intervention workers, counselors, and other supportive mental health service providers. Specifically, the bill:

  • Requires school safety plans to include the development of clear guidelines for the roles and responsibilities of mental health professionals, school resource officers, and police on campus;
  • Encourages schools and school districts that receive state or federal funding to establish clear memorandums of understanding (MOU) with law enforcement on the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement on and off campus and make those MOUs public; and
  • Encourages schools or school districts that elect to receive additional state or federal funding for campus safety to prioritize the use of funding to improve school climate.

AB 549 comes in response to the call to increase the presence of law enforcement on school campuses following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  A growing body of research has shown that an over-reliance on law enforcement is ineffective, bad for school climate and morale, and results in an increase of student arrests and referrals to the juvenile court system. In place of police officers, researchers recommend that schools invest in programs and services that improve the school climate, like counselors, mental health services, school-wide positive behavior supports, and restorative/transformative justice interventions.

AB 549 is co-sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund-California, Labor/ Community Strategy Center, Policy Link, and Youth Justice Coalition, and is supported by a broad contingent of advocacy organizations.