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LAUSD issuing far fewer truancy tickets, report says

Los Angeles Unified School DistrictSocial Issues

Los Angeles school police have sharply curtailed the number of tickets issued for truancy to L.A. Unified students by 93.7% over the last four years, reflecting a step back from punitive disciplinary practices, according to a new report.

The report, by the Community Rights Campaign — an organizing effort to shift student disciplinary actions from police to schools and communities — also found that tickets for all offenses plunged by 54.8% from 2011-12 to 2012-13.

But African Americans and Latinos still receive a disproportionate number of tickets: Blacks were almost six times and Latinos were twice as likely to be ticketed than whites, according to the report released last week.

The sharp drop in police action against students reflects the growing success of a years-long effort by student and community activists to change practices in L.A. Unified, said the campaign's Manuel Criollo.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education voted to ban defiance as grounds for suspensions — the first district in California to do so — and restrict the role of police on campus. School board members also directed district officials to launch programs to use positive incentives and conflict mediation rather than punitive measures to help students change their behavior.

Under a groundbreaking partnership launched last year among district, city and school police officials, truant students are no longer ticketed, but instead sent to city youth centers for educational counseling and other services to help address their academic struggles.

"The report shows a mutual victory for the community and LAUSD," Criollo said. "But there's still work to be done."

On Wednesday, scores of students, parents, teachers and community members rallied in South Los Angeles to press for even more changes. The campaign is urging the district and school police to end all ticketing and arrests for offenses that pose no immediate and serious threat to others, such as fighting, profanity, petty theft, possession of tobacco and less serious drugs, vandalism and graffiti.

Instead, activists are urging officials to treat student misbehavior with alternatives shown to be more effective — as school districts elsewhere have done. Texas, for instance, completely eliminated in September school police tickets for student misbehavior.

Other recommendations include ending all ticketing for elementary and middle school students — 47.4% of those ticketed in 2012-13 were 14 years old and younger. The campaign is also calling for clear limits on police roles on campus, and more spending on counselors and other school officials rather than law enforcement officers.

"Positive discipline is not trying to let you off the hook, but supporting you to change your behavior," Criollo said.

L.A. Unified Police Chief Steven Zipperman could not be reached for comment, but the district took issue with the report's focus on continued racial disparities, saying tickets to African Americans dropped by 22% and to Latinos by 44% in 2012.

"Each year, we continue to reduce crime, reduce arrests, reduce suspensions and increase positive relationships with students," the district said in a statement. "For that, we deserve an A, not an F."

Criollo said his organization never flunked the district — but he declined to give a grade.

Teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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