Schools in Los Angeles to End Zero Tolerance Policies

Los Angeles Unified School District plans to end zero tolerance policies at all of its schools.

The district, which has more than 640,000 students in almost 1100 schools, is the nation's second largest. Starting next year, it will stop criminalizing low-level offenses committed on campus, according to Al Jazeera:

Under previous policies, students would face arrest or citations for nonviolent violations including possessing alcohol or marijuana on campus. Now, such students will be sent to the principle's office or be given mandatory counseling.

Activists welcomed the decision, saying it will help stem the so-called school-to-prison pipeline that they argue unfairly targets minorities. The 'school-to-prison pipeline' refers to a nationwide system of policies that push students out of school and into the juvenile criminal justice systems for minor offenses such as goofing off in class or showing up late.

According to the New York Times, the district has the largest school police force in the country, with more the 350 officers. People have spoken out about zero tolerance policies for years, mostly because usually result in ridiculous examples of schools overreacting to disciplinary issues. Think about all the "expelled for having aspirin/harmless thing that could a weapon/etc." type stories you've heard of in the past few years. "Zero tolerance" is less about disciplining and reforming troubled students and more about schools trying to wash their hands of problem kids and avoid lawsuits in the process. To put it bluntly, the policy is dumb and they don't work:

National studies have also shown that students are more likely to drop out if they are arrested, and many advocates have long criticized harsh discipline as part of what they call the "school to prison pipeline."

School systems in Northern California and Georgia have also made similar changes in recent years.

"We want schools to be a place where kids are pre-med or pre-jobs, not pre-prison," said Manuel Criollo, the director of organizing at theLabor/Community Strategy Center, which has pushed for the changes in the district for years. "Students really have been profiled inside the school setting, instead of getting the help they need from school counselors."

Ruth Cusick, a lawyer working on the changes to the LASD policies told Al Jazeera the issue isn't just one of discipline and maintaining order in the school room. It's also one of race and class (surprise). "It really is in low-income communities of color that we've seen this increase in law enforcement presence," she said.

Students with criminal records are less likely to graduate and significantly more likely to be incarcerated as an adult, according to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which added that youth of color or those with disabilities are disproportionately targeted by this policy.

Around 93 percent of the approximately 9,000 arrests and tickets issued to students in the 2011-2012 school year involved African American and Latino students, data provided by the district to the Labor/Community Strategy Center showed.

"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," said Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Courts "The people who are in these schools need to deal with these issues, not use the courts as an outlet."

"What is the court going to do?" he said. "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...What's the point of that?"

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