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Rally calls for fewer police citations of LAUSD students

August 9, 2012 |  5:15 pm

Los Angeles education advocates performed street theater and installed public art Thursday in an appeal to dramatically reduce the number of police citations given to students for such offenses as fighting, carrying tobacco, or being tardy or absent from school.

In a rally featuring drumming and chants at Los Angeles Unified’s downtown headquarters, about 50 students, teachers and community activists urged Supt. John Deasy and Los Angeles School Police Chief Steven Zipperman to start the school year next Tuesday with a comprehensive plan to reduce citations by 75%. They also called for measures to protect black students and others from discriminatory ticketing patterns documented in school police data released earlier this year.

School police issued 33,845 citations between 2009 and 2011, accounting for 12% of middle and high school students; 40% went to students 14 years or younger. The data showed that 18% of tickets went to black students, although they make up 10% of L.A. Unified’s student population. Latinos, who make up 73% of students, received 76% of citations, and whites and Asian Americans were underrepresented.

Citations for some offenses carry fines as high as $250, which advocates say many low-income families cannot afford. But some judges offer students the chance to make amends through community service instead.

The rally was part of a larger campaign in California and nationwide to reduce what one advocate called a “punishment culture” on some campuses that is viewed as pushing students out of school, into the streets and, for some, into the criminal justice system. Instead, a growing number of educators, public officials and community activists are promoting programs to support troubled students with counseling and positive incentives for better behavior.

“This type of ticketing and law enforcement actions are forcing young people to abandon school,” said Manuel Criollo, lead organizer for the Community Rights Campaign, a youth-led civil rights organization that sponsored the rally.

Criollo said his group is discussing with Zipperman plans for school police to reduce citations involving curfews, tobacco possession and disturbing the peace –- generally school yard fights and offensive words. But the group is also urging district officials to craft a concrete plan that specifies alternatives to citations for misbehavior, restricts the role of school police in dealing with discipline cases and lays out strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in ticketing practices.

Zipperman and Deasy could not be reached for comment.

In a short performance, youth activists acted out police officers giving out citations and students objecting to them. They also installed art in front of L.A. Unified’s headquarters on Beaudry Avenue: life-sized cutouts of students handcuffed in a jail jumpsuit, with a school backpack and in cap and gown holding signs urging an end to campus ticketing.  Mock citations were arranged to spell out 33,800 to represent the number of tickets issued. And a banner was posted urging “counselors not cuffs, teachers not tickets!”

In February, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to limit fines for public school students who are late to school. Fines of $20 may be imposed only if a student is late at least three times, compared with fines as high as $250 previously. But Criollo said that school police are still giving out too many tickets for other offenses.

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-- Teresa Watanabe

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