From the Center for Public Integrity
Los Angeles’ top juvenile court judge is objecting to a planned diversion of $13 million to school police there from state funds earmarked to provide special learning assistance to disadvantaged kids.
An unprecedented new California funding plan is poised to distribute billions across the Golden State, which has long been beleaguered by inequities in educational support in low-income communities and waves of budget cuts in more recent years. Earmarked funds are supposed to be slated specifically for low-income and foster-care kids, as well as students classified as still learning English as a second language.
In a June 6 letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash said this particular pot of money should not be diverted to support the L.A. district’s own school police force, which has an annual budget of around $57 million.
Nash expressed “great respect” for recent efforts to reduce school suspensions and referrals to police, but said he did “not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”
“On the contrary,” the judge said, “there has been a wealth of research that indicates that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment.
“This explains why, as part of a nationwide discipline reform process that has gained significant traction of late, there is a specific focus on reducing police involvement in routine school discipline matters,” Nash wrote.
Nash’s letter was made available to the Center for Public Integrity.
Nash presides over one of the biggest juvenile courts in the country and was a recent president of the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges. In that role he also wrote to the White House expressing concerns about schools rushing to obtain federal money to put more school police on campuses in the wake of the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
As the Center for Public Integrity reported, Nash has been involved in efforts in Los Angeles to rein in the use of school police on campuses; practices were leading to the annual ticketing of tens of thousands of mostly low-income black and Latino students for tardiness, truancy, schoolyard fights and other minor infractions. Almost half of the ticketed students were 14 or younger.
Nash argues that excessive use of police in essentially school discipline matters — and matters he said were better addressed through counseling and family support — were contributing to a “school-to-prison pipeline” putting kids at risk of greater, not less, trouble with the criminal justice system.
A 12-year-old featured in a Center story was arrested and charged with assault in connection with a fight, his first, with a friend over a basketball game; the school later apologized but the boy had to go to court and also has a police arrest record on the books until he’s at least 18.
Considered the most important school financing reform in 40 years, California’s new so-called “Local Control Funding Formula” general plan will distribute funds per student to districts, along with supplemental money schools are expected to use to address the academic and counseling needs of disadvantaged students.
The state’s black, Latino and lower-income students’ rates of overall graduation or on-time graduation are lagging other groups of students, resulting in disproportionate college enrollment and job skills.
L.A. Unified School District leaders are scheduled to publicly present their draft plan Tuesdayfor how the district will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars extra to boost services for its most vulnerable students. The district’s board must vote on the plan June 30.
A review of other California school districts’ plans shows that some are also considering using money for vulnerable students to supplement school police or security, including in Sacramento, Long Beach and the Kern Union High School District, a Central Valley district with a record of high rates of student expulsion or transfers, as the Center has also reported.
L.A. Unified representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Nash’s letter or the final draft of a spending plan that released over the weekend. The $13 million allotment to support police was unchanged from a previous draft proposal released several months ago.
A chart of proposed spending — posted on the district’s website — is not specific in justifying why school police should receive funding meant to support “school climate” for disadvantaged students. But a more detailed version of the plan does say: “We must point out that there are sometimes serious and legitimate safety issues, such as violence or criminal activity, which necessitate the immediate removal of a student from the campus.”
In another letter to the district in April, a group of legal aid and community groups involved in school-discipline reform in California praised the L.A. district for proposing to direct $37 million of the new supplemental funds to 37 of the district’s most troubled middle and high schools.
But the groups also objected to the idea of diverting more than $13 million to L.A. school police, for the same reasons as Nash. The groups additionally protested that the district’s draft proposal initially allocates only $2.6 million for certain methods of managing student clashes and misbehavior known as “restorative justice” counseling.
Restorative justice methods are key to the L.A. district’s own adopted “School Climate Bill of Rights,” the groups noted. That bill of rights aims to reduce suspensions and referrals of students to police for fights or misbehavior. The relatively modest proposed spending to hire a relative handful of counselors to lead this effort is “extremely disturbing,” the letter says.
The groups asked for many millions more to be invested in such counseling, including all the $13 million slated for police. But no additional money for restorative justice appears in the latest version of the plan.
The letter is signed by the Community Rights Campaign of the Labor Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles and Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, groups that were instrumental in rolling back school-police ticketing in Los Angeles.
Also signing the letter were the California office of the Children’s Defense Fund; the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; the Youth Justice Coalition and CADRE, a parents’ group that has pushed for alternatives to student suspensions.
[Editor's note: Judge Nash is a previous contributor to JJIE.org.]
The Center for Public Integrity is a non-profit, independent investigative news outlet. For more stories on this topic go to publicintegrity.org.
This story originally appeared on iWatchnews.org by the Center for Public Integrity.
In the wake of critical news reports, Los Angeles school police and administrators have agreed to rethink enforcement tactics that have led to thousands of court citations yearly for young students in low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods.
The Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles-based Labor-Community Strategy Center each performed their own analysis recently of previously unreleased citation records obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department, the nation’s largest school police force. The Center found that between 2009 and the end of 2011, Los Angeles school police officers issued more than 33,500 tickets to students 18 and younger, with more than 40 percent handed out to kids 14 and 10 years old. That was an average of about 30 tickets a day. A large portion of the tickets for younger children were for disturbing the peace, which can include a physical fight or using threatening or disruptive language.
Some parents and concerned juvenile-justice judges have questioned whether it’s appropriate for such minor indiscretions to be handled by police, rather than school authorities.
Arguing that heavy police ticketing of children is counterproductive, Manuel Criollo of the Labor Community Strategy Center said his group has met twice with L.A. Unified School Police Chief Steven Zipperman and Michelle King, a deputy district superintendent. A third meeting is expected to take place this month.
Criollo said Zipperman was surprised at revelations that children as young as 7 and 8 have been given court summonses, many of which include monetary penalties. Police and administrators agreed to discuss alternatives to ticketing for tardiness, disturbing the peace and “possession” offenses, which can include possession of cigarettes, lighters or magic markers that could be used for graffiti, Criollo said.
A spokesperson for L.A. Unified said in a statement that “LASPD is committed to reviewing the data and analyzing incident types in which alternative strategies can be feasibly developed, especially in areas such as truancy.”
During the week of June 18, the spokesperson also said, Los Angeles school police, “collaborating with other district offices and divisions, will begin to develop a timeline for working on identifying alternative strategies . . . Considering we are the largest school district in the state and second largest in the country, developing this timeline will take time and diligence. “
The Center’s analysis also showed that citations to middle-school students were highly concentrated in Los Angeles’ most heavily Latino and African-American neighborhoods. Los Angeles public radio station KPCC created a mapand also produced a report on the citations in collaboration with the Center.
In response to revelations about the volume of citations, district officials and police had previously maintained that court appearances would help students learn that fighting and other unlawful behavior would not be tolerated as adults.
“I’m not hearing them saying that now,” Criollo said.
A growing number of educational experts contend that introducing students to the criminal-justice system for low-level offenses actually pushes many away from school and increases the possibility of their dropping out. The areas where student ticketing is heaviest corresponds to neighborhoods where Los Angeles’ dropout rates have been highest. Criollo and others who want reforms suggested that a heavier police presence in lower-income neighborhoods leads to unequal police involvement in school life.
After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Los Angeles district agreed last year to take steps to reduce the district’s relatively high suspension rates of African-American students. As part of its review of Los Angeles’ ongoing reforms in discipline policy, the civil rights office is also reviewing the district’s history of court citations.
Criollo said it’s hard to tell from records released so far how many tickets originate with school administrators deciding to involve police in a school matter and how many are the result of officers’ own decisions to issue citations.
Photo by Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles