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Toughen Discipline Policy, Report Urges L.A. Schools

March 20, 1990|SAM ENRIQUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing evidence that only about 3% of students who brought weapons to school last year were permanently expelled, a new report charges Los Angeles Unified School District officials with failing to stem campus violence and recommends sweeping changes in student-discipline policies.

The report, commissioned by the Los Angeles Board of Education, said current school policies do little to combat campus violence because school officials put the welfare of violent students ahead of the safety of law-abiding students and teachers.

Written after 10 months of study, the report, made public Monday, called for the mandatory expulsion of students who commit assaults or bring guns on campus.

The 65-member "School Safety and Security Task Force"--made up of parents, educators and law enforcement officials--was formed by the board last May at the request of West San Fernando Valley board member Julie Korenstein to look into campus violence. It came in the wake of a wave of highly publicized school crimes in the 610,000-student district during the 1988-89 school year, including the stabbing of a junior high school English teacher by a student during class.

The report will be formally presented to school board members Thursday.

The task force was especially critical of district officials for expelling only 15 of the 438 students who were recommended for expulsion for bringing weapons to school during the 1988-89 school year. Some 122 cases were dropped, the report said, and 299 students were suspended and later transferred to other district schools. The report called for a greater number of permanent expulsions from the school system.

The task force found that other Los Angeles County school districts during the 1987-88 school year expelled 52% of the students for whom expulsion was recommended. Expulsions are allowed under the state education code for students bringing weapons or drugs to school or who are involved in assaults.

"The conclusion seems obvious," the report said. "The LAUSD is overly concerned with the welfare of its most violent offenders and has, consequently, placed the safety of the other students and staff in serious jeopardy."

The task force recommended the Board of Education require mandatory "straight expulsion"--without the right to enroll in another district school--of students found guilty of assaults causing serious injury and for using or possessing a firearm on campus.

Such students would have to enroll in special schools operated by Los Angeles County for troublesome students until they reach the legal age to leave school, the report said.

During the 1988-89 school year, district officials reported 1,025 crimes involving weapons, including 374 assaults involving deadly weapons, the report said.

For students who commit lesser crimes or who fail to obey school authorities, the task force recommended the district transfer them to special junior and senior high schools. The report recommends 20 sites throughout the city for creation of such schools, but does not say how the financially strapped district will pay for them.

Creation of special schools for problem students would replace the current district practice of disciplining students with behavior problems by transferring them to other schools, the report said. About 3,700 junior and senior high school students were issued such transfers last year for disobedience and physical violence, the report said.

A student with a history of violence received such a transfer to a junior high school in Sylmar and later stabbed his English teacher in the back. The woman has since recovered from her wounds but has not returned to teaching. The boy was expelled and later sentenced to eight years in the California Youth Authority.

Such transfers, the report said, "are likely to help only a small percentage of these maladjusted students."

The task force also recommended:

The assignment of an assistant superintendent solely to oversee student discipline and school crime problems.

Establishment of a districtwide computerized tracking system that would alert teachers and administrators to the identities of violent students transferred to their schools.

Schools be given counselors and other resources to attempt to reform students before their behavior turns to violence.

Korenstein said she plans to ask her colleagues to adopt the recommendations made by the task force.

"This could be one of the most ambitious undertakings in terms of combating school violence, and it is long overdue," Korenstein said. "If the only remedy we have for discipline problems is transferring that kid to another school, then we're in a vicious cycle."

(Southland Edition) WEAPONS ON CAMPUS

Chart shows the disposition of cases of Los Angeles Unified School District students found on campus in possession of guns, knives and other weapons, during the 1988-89 school year. 611 students were found in possession of weapons Of those, 438 were recommended for expulsion by school staff Of those recommended for expulsion: 147, or 34%, remained in regular schools 276, or 63%, were placed in special schools 15, or 3%, were actually expelled.

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