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New policy aims to reduce truancy tickets in LAUSD

After complaints that a get-tough approach to school discipline has led to racial profiling in LAUSD, the district's Police Department will instead focus on getting students to class.

October 21, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles School Police Department has issued new rules aimed at reducing the number of truancy tickets written to students and focusing efforts instead on helping these students get to and remain in school.

The new policy in the Los Angeles Unified School District, announced Thursday, is the latest change from a campaign to reform traditional school discipline that, advocates of the new policy say, results in ethnic and racial profiling and hardships for students and families. The old rules were part of a get-tough philosophy that included truancy sweeps, $250 tickets and mandatory court appearances that could result in jail time for parents. Such measures, advocates said, can diminish time in school and ultimately increase the dropout rate.

The new approach is an about-face.

Under the guidelines, there will be no ticket task forces or law-enforcement truancy sweeps within the first 90 minutes of school and their use will be limited at other times. Officers also won't issue tickets on or near school grounds, where school authorities "should be responsible for students," according to a news release from advocates. The rules also emphasize "the requirement that police must ask students if they have a legitimate excuse before writing them a ticket."

"This notice … reinforces the [police department's] commitment to support the superintendent's goals of attendance and graduation improvement, and reduce the cycle of student 'push out,'" Chief of Police Steven K. Zipperman said in a statement that accompanied the announcement. "Officers are reminded that they must inquire whether the student has a valid excuse for tardiness or absence."

He added that, whenever possible, officers should focus on getting a student to school. Nor is truancy, by itself, a justification for "frisks, the use of handcuffs or physical restraints, and searches," Zipperman wrote.

"With this directive, school police officers will be a stronger partner with principals, students, parents and teachers to keep students on track within the educational environment by reducing court appearances," Zipperman said.

Data compiled by advocates indicates that Latino and black students receive a higher proportion of truancy tickets. Earlier, the Los Angeles Police Department modified its truancy policies. Activists also have pushed to reduce the number of student suspensions and expulsions — a goal school district officials have embraced.

At the same time, teachers and administrators have expressed concerns about the new direction. They worry about losing disciplinary tools that help keep classrooms and campuses under control so that the majority of students don't have their learning disrupted.

A student who had been ticketed expressed his support for the changes.

"When you're dealing with real-life issues dragging you down and making you late to school, the last thing you need when you get there is to run into police treating you like a criminal and making you feel like there's no point to trying anymore," said Nabil Romero, a recent graduate from Roybal Learning Center in Echo Park.

Organizations involved in the truancy initiative include the Community Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Public Counsel, CADRE, the Youth Justice Coalition, and the Children's Defense Fund.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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