CNN features Community Rights on "zero tolerance," truancy tickets in schools

Manuel Criollo in CNNManuel Criollo featured in CN

Just yesterday, CNN ran a top story in their legal news section that features our Community Rights work against truancy tickets and pre-prison conditions in schools:

"But one thing is sure: Alexa's case isn't the first.  At schools across the country, police are being asked to step in.

The Strategy Center, a California-based civil rights group that tracks zero tolerance policies, found that at least 12,000 tickets were issued to tardy or truant students by Los Angeles Police Department and school security officers in 2008. The tickets tarnished students' records and brought them into the juvenile court system, with fines of up to $250 for repeat offenders.

The Strategy Center opposes the system. "The theory is that if we fine them, then they won't be late again," said Manuel Criollo, lead organizer of the "No to Pre-Prison" campaign at The Strategy Center. "But they just end up not going to school at all."  His group is trying to…"

Read the full story here "Girl's Arrest for Doodling Raises Concerns about Zero Tolerance"

The story also covers the work of Children's Defense FundACLU and our ally, The Advancement Project.

Eruption of comments, debate

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This story went up on yesterday morning and had over 2,000 comments posted before lunchtime. As of this morning, the comments have reached 4130 and are still rolling in.

Here are a few highlights:

Like the man said in the story. If you start giving out tickets for being late, then the next time i'm late. I just won't come to school.
Kids are out of control! Just visit a local mall on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday (the mall is not a babysitter)! This should not be an issue for police, but all you bleeding hearts have taken all the control out of the teacher’s hands and the parents! I blame you foolish folks for thinking that discipline is wrong...if you don't teach them they will never learn! Just overcrowding our prison system with these juvenile delinquents, when their parents should be right there beside them.
We teach kids how to treat others by the way we treat them. Schools are becoming just like prisons. They're old, gray, and falling apart. The rules are ramrod harsh. My 10 year old cousin told me that they are not allowed to talk at all during lunch…
I don't know about New York or any other city, but in the Houston TX suburb I live in, there are police on campus and instead of kids going to the principles office and getting detention, now the cop on campus gives them a ticket or takes them to jail. Then they have to go to court. $210.00 fine 4 years ago. Probably more now. Court and fine...anything they do wrong...court and fine.

Please add your voice to this national debate to end pre-prison conditions in our schools.


what the hell! I know from expirence that we wake up late we miss busses we some times need to watch younger siblings and get THEM redy for school now your telling me I'm going to be fined for that! Why go to a school @ all if i'm gona be fined for it I'm late all the time because I have a family that needs each other in the mornings but @ least I go and try to get an education. now If I do that my family is going in the hole School is the only hope people like my sister have w/o that their only future is a tight outfit a street corner and a whole lot of bastards. so F U I wont go any more.

Thank you for your response. I am sorry to hear about the incident that your daughter had to experience. How did you handle your daughter’s ticket? What was the ultimate outcome?

You touched on two points that I think are very important for our communities to address—the criminalization of everyday student life and the role and impact of law enforcement on our school campuses. Student conduct is no longer in the hands of counselors, administrators, and teachers or even parents but instead law enforcement and courts. Through “zero tolerance” policies, police officers have been handed the responsibility of addressing student conduct when they do not have the skills, training or resources to address students in a holistic approach (that promotes their growth, healing and change in behavior). As a result, our school environments become more hostile and unwelcoming for our students and student conduct issues that once required a visit to the principal’s office are now warranting arrests and tickets. This is what the Community Rights campaign refers to as the “pre-prisoning” of our youth. The “pre-prison” conditions in our schools are ultimately responsible for the push-out of many of Black and Latino students across the country.

A challenge for all of us is to make sure that we don’t get caught up in the rhetoric of dividing students between the “good” and “bad”, thus justifying or accepting the punitive punishments that the “bad” students receive. We must fight for the civil/human rights of all students. While it is important to create forms of accountability for student behavior, we must treat it exactly as that, student behavior not criminal activity. Often the students that are labeled or written off as “bad” students are the ones that are in the most need of support, resources and services—rather than the high ticket fines, court dates and arrests that they and their families receive. We need to create forms of accountability that provide students, their families and communities with the proper support, skills and resources to learn how to behave and engage in this world that promotes their health and sustainability. We can’t punish students or people let a lone, if they do not know any other way to behave or engage in this world. Let's place civil and human rights at the forefront of education so we can graduate all our students.

When we lose the ability to act with compassion & composure with our teenagers and children - then we should expect crime to raise because we have not lead by example. Children these days can not get away with anything. The most innocent of rule-breaking is now a constant police issue, and the police are not trained or equipped to handle this. My 14-year-old, all AP Courses, athletic daughter - who does not drink, take drugs, have behavior issues, run the streets or malls at night - nor is she sexually active - was threatened with having the police ticket her by a school administrator when she and a friend crossed a residential street from their high school one time to buy a hamburger and bring it back to the cafeteria. It was poor juddgement - kids are suppose to have a level of poor judgement - but she wasn't "cutting class" - she wasn't taking drugs - she wasn't being violent. I believe this is a very horrible lack of responsibility on the administrator's part in not taking the opportunity to coach and counsel an otherwise very well behaved child. I can only pray in the instances such as Alexa Gonzalez, and all others, these children will see how adults are behaving now and recognize how wrong it is, then as adults, work to correct this wrong and get our systems back on track. Unfortunately however, too many children who may lack support from parents, will likely fall the other way and turn to crime or other failures without the social support they need during these important years of development.