Los Angeles Reassessing Zero Tolerance Discipline Approach

The Los Angeles Unified School District is looking to move away from its zero tolerance disciplinary policies and is working to implement a system that will focus on remediation and counseling instead of ticketing and punishment. The school district is partnering with city police and local government to bring changes to the discipline guidelines — and one of its first moves is to eliminate citations for truancy, referring students instead to city youth centers that will aid them with their academic struggles.

The new approach will also have an impact in how the Los Angeles County Probation Department will handle infractions by students. Before anyone accused of a misdeed is directed through the court system, officials will instead attempt a less extreme form of intervention via counseling, tutoring or similar services.

The move away from punitive law enforcement actions and toward support services reflects a growing awareness, grounded in research, that treating minor offenses with police actions did not necessarily make campuses safer or students more accountable. Instead, officials and activists say, it often alienated struggling students from school, pushing some to drop out and get in more serious trouble with the law.

The Los Angeles Times' Teresa Watanabe relays the story of Josh Garcia, a former LAUSD student who has been harmed by the zero tolerance policies that have dominated the district's approach to student discipline since the 1990s. Garcia, who got his first citation for misbehavior in middle school, was subsequently cited at least four more times for truancy and discipline. He was even sentenced to a weekend at the Central Juvenile Hall for bringing a pair of brass knuckles to Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. His multiple run-ins with law enforcement officers had a substantial negative impact on his academic achievement, and, finding himself unable to pass the high school exit exam his senior year, he dropped out without graduating.

For those contemplating the shift from zero tolerance, Garcia serves as an example of the kinds of kids the effort aims to help before its too late. And with the recent appointment to key government and education posts by those who favor a more liberal approach to punishment, the reform has kicked into high gear.

The shift is being directed by new city and county leaders who community groups say are far more responsive to the groups' long-running complaints. L.A. Unified Schools Supt. John Deasy, school Police Chief Steven Zipperman and L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Jerry E. Powers — who all took office last year — have embraced the changes for low-level student offenses.

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