LAUSD Eases Student Punishments for “Minor-Level” Offenses

The new disciplinary changes reflect the shift away from "zero-tolerance" measures

The new school year brings with it new disciplinary policies for Los Angeles Unified School District students, who instead of being arrested or cited for "minor offenses," like alcohol possession or fighting, will instead be given counseling or school-based intervention.

The changes were announced by community leaders and district officials on Tuesday at Manual Arts High School.

Ruth Cusick, an education rights attorney with Public Counsel, said the changes to the policy keeps students out of incarceration and in school.

"When students make mistakes, like we all do, we want to intervene and actually give them a chance to address the problem," Cusick said.

Cusick said one arrest on a child’s record doubles their chances of dropping out of school.

The changes in the disciplinary policy were the result of more than two years of negotiations between legal and community organization groups, including Public Counsel and the Los Angeles School Police Department.

"It kind of felt like the school wasn't ours," Ezinne Nwankwo said of old policies. "They seemed like just a regular student, and then all of the sudden they're in handcuffs. It's kind of scary."

LAUSD, which houses more than 640,000 students and nearly 1,100 schools, is one of the largest school districts that have turned away from using mainly punitive measures in disciplining students.

With the new policy, possession of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or petty vandalism will now result in the student being referred to school or community officials.

Students who are caught fighting will be referred to YouthSource Centers where they will be counseled by LAUSD employees. Schoolyard fights are often charged as simple batteries and make up around 20 percent of student arrests.

The new disciplinary changes reflect the shift away from "zero-tolerance" measures, changes which were outlined in the School Discipline Policy and School Climate Bill of Rights passed last year.

"Zero tolerance in this country has lost its way," LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Previous changes to the city’s Daytime Curfew Law have decriminalized student truancy and tardiness.

Los Angeles Juvenile Court Judge Donna Groman said the educational system is better equipped than the criminal justice system to address behavior at school.

"Juvenile court should be the last resort for youth who commit minor school-based offenses," Groman said in a statement.

Results of the new policies have been seen in the reduction in the amount of citations given by school police.

In the 2009-10 school year the amount of citations given out was around 10,000, this dropped to about 3,000 last year.

Gordon Tokumatsu contributed to this report.

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