School officials in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are taking steps to reduce the high arrest rate in LA schools.
New policies introduced this week state that students who deface school property, participate in a fight on school grounds, or have tobacco or marijuana in their possession will be sent to the principal's office for discipline. Currently, students are given a citation by the Los Angeles School Police Department or are arrested.
The police department for the district is the largest in the nation, employing more than 350 armed officers.
The second-largest school district in the country, students who attend LAUSD are more likely to receive a criminal citation than students from Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York, according to the 2013 report from the Labor/Community Strategy Center.
A second report by the federal Education Department's Office of Civil Rights found that black and Latino students in Los Angeles tend to face harsher consequences than white students. According to the study, 93% of the 9,000 arrests and tickets given to students in 2011-2012 involved black and Latino students. This discipline has reached all the way down to preschool. Almost 50% of preschool students suspended this year in the district were African-American.
"We want students to be with us, not pushed out and sent to jail," Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy said. "We have been disproportionately incarcerating, disproportionately citing, and disproportionately suspending youth of color, and it's wrong."
Judge Michael Nash of the Los Angeles Juvenile Courts said that the court system in the district is overcrowded and the new policies will allow the system to focus on children who "really pose the greatest risk to the community."
"There are enough studies that show bringing them into the justice system is really more of a slippery slope that leads to negative outcomes and poor futures," Judge Nash said. "The people who are in these schools need to deal with these issues, not use the courts as an outlet. We have to change our attitude and realize that the punitive approach clearly hasn't worked."
Currently, Nash said the court system is busy dealing with smaller issues such as using profanity in class.
"What is the court going to do? The kid is going to lose a day of school, and the family is going to get a fine they aren't going to be able to afford," he said. "What's the point of that?"
The issue of student discipline was introduced in the 1970s under a "zero tolerance" policy. School officials around the country are busy instituting restorative justice measures which hope to address student's reasons for the misconduct rather than merely doling out punishments.
National studies have shown a direct link to dropping out of school once arrested in a "school to prison pipeline," while behavioral intervention strategies have been shown to be more beneficial in school success.
"This is about changing behavior," school board member MÃ³nica GarcÃa said. "We're acknowledging we have young people who need guidance and an opportunity to learn from their mistakes."
School districts in San Francisco and Broward County, Florida have already implemented similar reforms.