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L.A. School Police, District Agree to Rethink Court Citations of Students

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

Frequent Marijuana Use Among Teens is Up

A joint. JJIE file photo. Ryan Schill / JJIE.orgHeavy marijuana use among teens has increased drastically in recent years, with nearly one in 10 sparking up 20 times or more each month, according to a new survey of young Americans released this morning.

The findings represent nearly an 80 percent increase in past-month heavy marijuana use among high school aged youth since 2008.

Overall, the rate of marijuana use among teens has increased. Past month marijuana users, or teens that have used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, increased 42 percent, to 27 percent of teens, compared to 2008 findings. Past-year and lifetime use also increased, but not as drastically, at 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Marijuana use has not been this widespread among American teens since 1998, when the past-month usage rate hovered around 27 percent, according the survey conducted by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation.

“Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well,” Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, said in a press release. “Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

The use of marijuana is becoming normalized among teens, too, according to the survey of 3,322 teen-aged students in grades 9-12 and 821 parents. Seventy-one percent of teens said they have friends who use the drug, up 64 percent from 2008, and only 26 percent agreed with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana.”

Still, while the number of teens who have used marijuana in their lifetime is on the rise, less than half of high school aged students have actually used the drug. The rate of teens who disapproved of their peer’s use of the drug remained unchanged since 2008, with more than 60 percent disapproving of the practice – and 41 percent who said they “strongly disapprove.”

Heavy users  are drastically more likely to use other drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription drugs, compared to their peers who reported not using marijuana in the past year, the report found.

Teen boys, especially Hispanic males, have led the increase in the past year. Heavy usage by teen boys usage increased at nearly twice the rate of their female counterparts. Hispanic high school males are more likely to have used marijuana in the past year compared to their peers. Fifty percent reported using the drug in the past year, compared to 40 percent of black and 35 percent of white teens.

“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, President and CEO of MetLife Foundation, who contributed to the report. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can.”

The findings are part of the 23rd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, a yearly gauge of teens’ and parents’ attitudes toward issues that affect their lives.

 

Photo credit: Ryan Schill/JJIE

Cheating Scandal Prompts New SAT and ACT Security Measures

In the wake of an embarrassing cheating scandal involving at least 20 Long Island, N.Y., high school students, the makers of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are tightening rules nationwide. Significantly, students will now be required to provide a photograph when signing up for the tests that officials will check against student identification on testing day.

The SAT and ACT are used by virtually every American college when making admissions decisions.

Last fall, the Nassau County District Attorney charged five teenagers with taking the tests for other students and accused 15 others with paying them $500 to $3,600 to take the tests, The New York Times reports. As many as 50 students may have been involved, the district attorney, Kathleen M. Rice, told the Times.

According to Rice, the changes are meant to send a message to others who might consider cheating.

“They will be caught, and they will be held accountable,” she told The Times. “The old system did not ensure that.”

Students will be required to upload or mail in their photograph and the image will be printed on their admission ticket. Proctors will compare the printed photograph with photo identification presented the day of the test, as well as the student’s actual face.

The new photo requirement, along with other changes, will take effect in the fall.

Students, Community Members Gather in Atlanta to Protest Trayvon Martin Shooting

Trayvon Martin Rally Atlanta March 26 2012

ATLANTA -- Hundreds of Trayvon Martin supporters gathered to chants of “I am Trayvon” in Downtown Atlanta on Monday, exactly one month after the Florida teen was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in an Orlando suburb.

Bands of student demonstrators, mainly organized by student groups from nearby universities, joined activists, community members and a long list of organizers on the steps of the state capital to call for the arrest of George Zimmerman – the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who claimed to have shot the 17-year-old in self-defense.

“It’s a general issue of justice,” said Richard Hunter, 42, who attended the rally with his nine-year-old son, Matt.

“I think we’ve seen that when we get involved things can change,” Hunter said about the importance of getting young people involved in justice issues. “A lot of people sit back and act like nothing is going to happen instead of showing up. So I decided to show up.”

The hodge-podge of protestors also challenged Georgia’s own “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly-force if you fear your life is in danger.

Zimmerman admitted to shooting the teen, but claimed self-defense under a similar Florida law and has not been arrested.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Morehouse student Jonathon Howard said to a cheering crowd, delivering a still powerful quote more than half a century after it was first penned by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trayvon Martin Rally Atlanta March 26 2012 KIPP Atlanta Collegiate
Students from KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, a local school, join the protests at the Ga. State Capital. March 26, 2012.

Many protestors carried bags of Skittles and wore hooded sweatshirts adorned with the “I am Trayvon” slogan despite temperatures in the 80s. Martin was wearing a hoody and carrying a bag of Skittles when he was shot and killed returning from a local 7-Eleven in Sanford, Fla. He was unarmed.

Demonstrations in more than half a dozen major cities around the country marked the anniversary. Seventy-three percent of Americans said they felt Zimmerman should be arrested and face charges for the death, according to a recent CNN poll.

In Florida, a special prosecutor has been assigned to investigate the case. A grand jury is scheduled to begin deliberation on the case April 10.

Earlier in the day, Sanford officials confirmed an altercation ensued between Martin and Zimmerman prior to the fatal shot. Signs of the scuffle appeared in the original police reports, but had not been confirmed by law enforcement. City officials also announced a replacement for the Sanford Police Chief who stepped down, at least temporarily, last week amid community outrage over the department’s handling of the case.

Longtime civil rights activists Rev Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Martin’s parents and supporters for a rally in Sanford.

“It’s justice for someone who hasn’t gotten any,” Joanna Carter, 23, said back in Atlanta. “If you let it continue this just ain’t right, no matter the color.”

Photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE

Trayvon Martin Rally Georgia State Capital March 26 2012

Los Angeles to Vote Feb. 22 on Ending $250 Truancy Fines

This story was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity

In a policy debate watched nationally, the city of Los Angeles came closer Monday to getting rid of most — but not all — controversial monetary fines for students who are tardy or truant from school.

For several years, students in Los Angeles have complained about hefty $250-plus fines for being tardy, and about police officers who staked out schools to catch students sometimes only minutes late. The ticketing also requires students to go to court, with parents, during school hours, so they miss more class time and parents miss work.

On Monday, the Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted to set limits on how police enforce the city’s 1995 daytime curfew law and to stop imposing the $250 fines, which, once fees and court costs are added on, can rise to $400 or more for one violation.

The curfew amendments — if they get full city council approval on Feb. 22 — would replace the $250 fines with graduated penalties emphasizing counseling. Students ticketed once or twice would be required to participate in an attendance-improvement plan or in counseling or community service. If ticketed a third time, the ordinance would call for a possible monetary fine whose amount is still being negotiated, said Michael de la Rocha, legislative deputy to Los Angeles City Council member Tony Cardenas, who sponsored the amendments.

Cardenas wanted to end all fines, and would prefer capping a third-strike fine at $20, which in reality would end up costing students more, given extra fees that get tacked on, de la Rocha said.

As of January, Los Angeles' students won't be required to pay monetary fines — for now — regardless of what the city council does. Last month, Michael Nash, the county’s presiding juvenile court judge, instructed all court officers to stop imposing daytime curfew fines on ticketed students throughout the county and instead order them to show improved attendance, or, if that fails, mandatory counseling or community service.

Nash recently told the Center for Public Integrity he didn’t think the fines were effective because many students didn’t pay them — they were afraid to tell their parents — and as a result were accumulating penalties of thousands of dollars and not being allowed to get driver’s licenses.  From now on, the court’s ultimate penalty, Nash said, will be blocking or suspending a driver’s license but not collecting money.

Cardenas said his proposal to end fines would have brought the city's ordinance into line with Nash's thinking.De la Rocha also noted that once Nash steps down as presiding judge, his successor could decide to restore imposing daytime curfew fines in Los Angeles and in other jurisdictions inside the county.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s position on Cardenas' amendments was that the city's ordinance should still include a monetary fine,  “a heavy stick,” de la Rocha said, and it should be up to a judge’s discretion whether to impose that or not.

Nash was chairman of a task force on school attendance that released a report this month attacking daytime curfew fines as falling disproportionately on low-income families and students who depend on unreliable public transit or have other reasons for arriving tardy, such as caring for younger siblings. The report called for other measures to try to boost school attendance, including counseling to get to root problems for tardiness or disengagement from school.

Manuel Criollo, an organizer with the Los Angeles-based Labor Community Strategy Center, said his group wanted to end fines, but accepted that Cardenas had to “reach out” to police to get backing for amendments. Criollo served on the attendance task force with Nash.

On Monday, the public safety committee also adopted additional Cardenas amendments. They include forbidding police from ticketing students in areas immediately around schools, and for officers to avoid stopping students, especially during the first hour of school, who are clearly on their way to classes.  Officers also have to show they tried to talk to students to determine if they were truly truant.

Criollo’s group lobbied for these restrictions because of students being stopped, handcuffed and, in some cases, treated in an allegedly rough manner by officers, as the Center for Public Integrity reported recently.

Last year, both the chiefs of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles School District Police issued directives for officers to follow these guidelines and stick to the “spirit” of the daytime curfew law. But some students still complained of how police behaved toward them.

Criollo said his group hopes to work with Nash to see if Los Angeles students who are ticketed can avoid having to take time off school for mandatory court appearances and instead enter into out-of-court counseling agreements with school and city supervision.

Nash’s directive and the amendments before the Los Angeles City Council have attracted support from civil-rights groups nationwide concerned that daytime curfews and large fines are actually pushing students away from school.  Some students in Los Angeles said they opted not to go to school at all if they felt they might arrive late.

Los Angeles “is a trend setter for the rest of the country — to show that there are other ways to get youth engaged in school,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group concerned with education policies.

Click here for further coverage of this story.

Food Pantry Helps Students in Need at Metro Atlanta University

The Feed the Future pantry. Photo by Tao Mosley

As the holidays draw closer, while many college students are spending late nights preparing for final exams and finishing projects, some students are just worried about finding the money to pay for food. At one college in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, students struggling between paychecks have access to a donated food pantry where they can stock up on two-weeks of food.

The Feed the Future program, run by the Psychiatric and Social Services Department of Kennesaw State University and the KSU Staff Senate, feeds up to 30 hungry students each month during the fall and spring semesters, according to the program’s director, Tao Bartleson Mosley, a professor and social worker at the campus health clinic.

“Demand varies by month,” she said. “Summer is slow. It also slows down after financial aid pays out.”

Any student in need will receive 10 to 14 days of non-perishable food; items such as peanut butter, crackers and cans of soup or vegetables. Because it cannot store products such as milk or eggs, Mosley collects gift cards to Wal-Mart and grocery stores, allowing students to purchase food for themselves. Since 2006, Feed the Future has given food to more than 550 students, Mosley said.

Nationwide, more than 49 million Americans were at risk of hunger every day, including more than 16 million children, according to a 2008 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But no one knows how many college students are at risk.

Still, the Feed the Future program is critical for students and the university, says KSU Staff Senate President Deborah Chimeno.

“If you are worried about where your next meal is coming from,” she said, “you’re not focused on why you’re really here.” But, she added, it is important to note that the program doesn’t just help homeless students. Any student who is struggling between paychecks and in need of food is welcome.

And in Chimeno’s opinion, helping is the only option.

“We have to stick together,” she said. “That’s what a family does; they help each other.”

But many times, she says, students in need won’t accept the program’s help.

“I don’t want them to feel embarrassed or degraded,” she said. “But how do you give help to people too proud or stubborn to take it?

“What’s the matter with compassion?” she added. “They want privacy. I want them to know there are people who care about them.”

With a shoestring operating budget of only $500 a year, Feed the Future must be creative.  The program relies on donations of food and Chimeno isn’t shy about asking for help.

“My job is to get that information out there,” she said.

Chimeno starts with her own organization. She asks each of the senators to bring food donations to the Staff Senate’s monthly meetings. But the Senate is also partnering with other organizations across campus to increase collections.

Each year the KSU Swing Dance Association hosts the “Jump, Jive and Wail” a 1940s swing dance with a live big band. The cost of admission is a donation of food for the Feed the Future program.

Donations have also been taken at soccer and volleyball matches and at events sponsored by the KSU Alumni Association. The History Department even constructed their own permanent collection box. In order to pay for gift cards to grocery stores, Chimeno sells calendars and holds raffles, whatever it takes to keep the program alive and helping students.

The campus response has been very positive.

“We have the most motivated, compassionate team,” Chimeno said.

According to Chimeno, this has lead to record numbers of donations.

“This is the best year we have ever had,” she said.

In fact, the program has received so many donations that it is running out of room at its current storage location and had to expand to a warehouse, Chimeno said.

But the program can always use more donations.

“It’s time to start lighting the TNT and get people thinking [about ways to help],” Chimeno said.

Southern States Must Address Middle Grades Education Immediately, Report Warns

SREB Middle Grades Report 2011 cover image

2011 SREB Middle Grades Report - click to viewOnly about a quarter of rising ninth graders in the Southeastern United States will graduate high school on time, according to a new report from the Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB).

“The middle grades are the make-or-break point of our K-12 public school system,” SREB President Dave Spence said in a press release. “If states are serious about raising graduation rates and preparing more students for postsecondary study, work has to begin now on the middle grades.”

The SREB is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established by regional governors and legislators to improve the public education system. The organization covers 16 states in the South and Southeast, working directly with state leaders, schools and educators to improve learning and student achievement from Pre-K to higher education.

The 16 states covered by the SREB have made “good” progress in early grades achievement in recent years according to the report, but a number still lag behind national standards.

Meanwhile, nation-wide, the likelihood an American teen will graduate from high school increased from 2006 to 2009 according to the 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation on children’s well-being throughout the nation.

While some 1.1 million teens between the age of 16 and 19 didn’t graduate high school or failed to enroll in 2009, the number represents about a 50 percent decline in the dropout rate since 2000, according to Kids Count.

Today, students entering high school in the South have about a 50/50 shot of making it into some sort of postsecondary education by age 19, according to the SREB report, yet research has shown the job sectors expected to grow fastest in the coming years will require some sort of college degree or technical certificate.

Out of the SREB-district students that enrolled in a four-year college directly after high school in 2003, little more than half (53 percent) graduated within six years. Those enrolled in two-year colleges within the same period fared worse, with less than 20 percent graduating within three years.

According to 2009 figures, adults with a high school diploma earned an average of $8,500 a year more than adults without a diploma. Those with a bachelor’s degree average $26,000 more per year and tended to make healthier life choices, with a lower likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system, according to the SREB report.

Fourteen other nations already exceed the United States in the percentage of 25- to 34- year-olds who have completed at least two years of education beyond high school, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It’s a worrying trend, even for President Obama. At a July 2011 roundtable, the president called education “the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs, but whether America can out-compete countries around the world.”

Throughout his presidency, Obama has pushed for a greater focus in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The SREB report supports these initiatives, calling for an increased focus on both STEM studies and student literacy.

“Focusing on the middle grades curriculum to emphasize STEM in every subject means that more students will master these skills than in the past,” the SREB report notes. “They provide a foundation for continuing study in high school and for nearly all careers.”

To improve the states' graduation rates and help prepare students for high school, postsecondary study and even a future career, the 28-page report “A New Mission for Middle Grades: Preparing Students for a Changing World” offers a detailed, six-point roadmap to improving educational outcomes in middle school and beyond:

  • Communicate and clarify the mission in every middle grades school.
  • Focus the middle grades curriculum on literacy and STEM disciplines.
  • Identify middle grades students likely to drop out of school and intervene with increased learning time and accelerated instructions.
  • Require middle grades students to complete individual academic and career plans.
  • Refocus professional development for middle grades teachers, counselors and school leaders.
  • Hold districts and schools accountable for meeting the middle grades mission

According to the report, the middle grades are pivotal years for shaping a student’s future.

A phenomenon known as the “ninth-grade enrollment bulge” -- a chronic trend throughout the Southeast in which more students are enrolled in ninth grade than were enrolled in eighth grade due to being held back -- directly contributes to graduation rates, according to the report. Students cited not being on track to graduate with their peers as a critical factor in their decision to drop out of school.

Identifying those students at risk of dropping out or significantly lagging in the academic sector before they reach high school can reduce the “ninth-grade enrollment bulge” and ultimately the dropout rate, the report suggests.

“What we do to engage today’s sixth-grade students will have serious consequences for the strength of the economy in SREB states and the nation for years to come,” said North Carolina’s Gov. Beverly Perdue, former chair of the SREB Middle Grades Commission that produced the report.

Maryland has also started to develop a STEM resource clearinghouse with the hopes of bolstering early academic achievement in the state and facilitating an exchange of expertise and resources. Three county school districts are already online, but once completed the clearinghouse will act as a gateway for teachers to share knowledge, resources, and exchange ideas with STEM professionals and other academics.

“Part of the challenge is to move Maryland students to become world-class in STEM,” said June Streckfus, Executive Director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education and Co-Chair of the 2008 [Maryland] Stem Task Force . “In order to do that we took a two-prong approach,” focusing on motivating students to enroll in harder classes while fulfilling the needs of the teaching staff in areas like professional development and resource availability.

Findings from Montgomery County, Md., one of the few school districts in the nation to start putting the SREB’s vision for effective middle school practices to work, supports the work being done to improve education in the state. Data, based on student achievement in the district suggests students who pass Algebra I in the eighth grade are twice as likely to continue on to college.

In North Carolina, state legislators have pledged to create 10 anchor schools with a focus on STEM curriculum. Three high schools focused on STEM curriculum have already been established, with more expected in the coming years. Students choose whether to attend a STEM-centric high school while still taking middle school classes.

The anchor schools aim to lead the state’s efforts to develop exemplary STEM curricula while serving as centers for professional development and lead the state in innovative teaching and learning practices, according to the SREB report.

Higher Education and Freshmen Facts [infographic]

Who are today's college freshmen and what do they need to know? Those are two great questions those at Bachelor Degree Online's recent infographic seek to answer.

Since 1971 priorities have changed for those entering college. No longer is family at the forefront of their mind. Today, it's all about financial well-being. While interest in majors differ by gender, the number one field of study for both is still business.

Most striking among the data are freshman graduation rates from the varying types of colleges. For-profit colleges, by far, see the lowest graduation rate (around 16 percent) and the highest percentage of (former) students that default on student loan payments.

Freshmen Facts
Via: Bachelors Degree Blog

Missouri Won’t Let Teachers Friend Students on Facebook

Teachers in Missouri may want to spend the last few days before school begins removing their students from their friends list on Facebook. Missouri Senate Bill 54, just signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, prohibits contact between teachers and students on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The measure is supposed to clearly define student-teacher boundaries. But, according to some educators, the bill isn’t clear enough.

"It says current and former students, that's what the bill reads,” a Nixa, Mo., School District spokesperson told Missouri’s KSPR. “Does that mean students you've had in the classroom, the school district?  What if you've changed school districts?"

Some teachers use Facebook to communicate with entire classes, providing information on homework or other activities, however only private communication is forbidden. Teachers can set up fan pages that anyone can like, including students and parents.

 

Single Moms Wreaking Havoc? | June 24, 2011

Justice Hines: Single-Parent Households Wreaking Havoc On Georgia Children, Contributing To Criminal Behavior

Texas Educators May Soon Gain Access to Student’s Criminal Records