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Schools Go Back to Basics: No Guns : Impossible to Overestimate the Importance of the Automatic Expulsion Decision

Nearly 610,000 students attend public schools in Los Angeles. The hard-working majority of them arrive on campus carrying only a desire to learn; a tiny minority of their classmates come bearing guns and knives.

Determined to end this intolerable arms race, the Board of Education has toughened the district’s discipline policy. It voted to expel automatically students who bring guns onto the campuses of junior or senior high schools. This new policy puts all students and parents on appropriate notice: Bring a gun to school, and you’re through.

The district also will expel students who assault other youngsters in a way likely to cause grave injury. That guideline should reassure worried parents, and reduce the unacceptable level of violence on campuses.

The board acted on the advice of member Julie Korenstein, who has taken the lead on this controversial issue. She set up a community task force to address campus violence after a ninth-grade student stabbed his English teacher at a junior high school in the San Fernando Valley last year. Unfortunately, that assault was not an isolated incident.

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The sad fact is that youngsters are bringing more than pens and pencils to school. During the past school year, more than 400 students were considered for expulsion because they brought weapons and other dangerous objects, including explosives, to school. The reports of gun possession and assaults with other weapons have risen dramatically in the last four years. This dangerous trend must be stopped.

After collecting frightening statistics, Korenstein’s School Safety and Security Task Force recommended stricter disciplinary policies, coupled with stronger preventive programs and new alternatives for problem students. Those recommendations balanced the security needs of well-behaved students and the special needs of troubled students. Unfortunately, the district’s budget woes preclude much greater funding for special programs.

The board did retain the authority to review expulsions. The reviews should focus on cases with extenuating circumstances, such as students who bring Boy Scout knives to school or youngsters who bring weapons for protection against gangs or bullies. A few compassionate exceptions, but only a few, will be in order.

The Los Angeles Board of Education, finally moving to get guns off of every campus, is to be congratulated for making that message unmistakably clear.

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