It's September and back-to-school stories--and the Community Rights Campaign!--are in the news.
At the same time as we celebrate what we've achieved, these stories focus almost exclusively on truancy ticketing and remind us that our work is far from done. Stopping truancy ticketing is only the beginning, not the end, of our struggle to decriminalize all student conduct and discipline and end all pre-prison conditions in our schools.
In her must-read feature article, "The Truancy Trap ", investigative journalist and author of Lockdown High Annette Fuentes surveys zero tolerance truancy policies across the country, takes us inside families' experiences inside the courtroom, and interviews experts who raise concerns that the policies don't work.
The article goes into detail about our work in LA as a place where policies are changing because of community pressure. "The crackdown [in LA] hasn't managed to improve attendance, but it has sent thousands of kids and their parents to court and incited a student revolt against the policies."
Fuentes closes the article by quoting our lead organizer Manuel Criollo:
The Community Rights Campaign's broader agenda is to improve the quality of L.A.'s public schools to entice students to attend, not avoid, class. Truancy is a symptom of schools' failure, not the students', says campaign director Manuel Criollo. "Officials say if you don't go to school, you're going to end up in jail. The automatic assumption is that you're up to no good, and that's the wrong response to what's happening in public schools," he said. "What is the responsibility of the school? If they have a 50 percent failure rate, it should indicate something is wrong."
in "Should Kids Be Fined for Skipping School? " Time Magazine mentions our work in LA as part of a story on a Connecticut school district that is weighing a new fine and ticketing policy for truancy. The story compares US policies to those in Britain and raises the growing national debate over what policies are needed to keep students in school.
In her full-length story, "LA Schools Moving Away from Zero Tolerance Policies ," Teresa Watanabe lays out how LAUSD, the Probation Dept, and LASPD are changing their policies in response to our movement. The new approach is to support rather than punish students, to provide counseling rather than give citations.
The story does a good job highlighting a part of our February victory that has not received enough attention. The policy changes we won in February not only reduce the ticketing but created new resources to help students having problems attending school. In particular, our work led to the funding of 13 new youth centers--called Youth WorkSource Centers--where students who are stopped for truancy will be sent instead of receiving a citation and being sent to court. At these youth centers, "a school district specialist will evaluate the students and connect them with services to get them back on track." Watanbe cites a a 2006 study by Gary Sweeten, an Arizona State University associate professor of criminology, which found that a high school student's first arrest and court appearance quadrupled the likelihood of dropping out of school.
The story also interviews CRC legal advocate Zoe Rawson and quotes CRC Taking Action member Kieta Perez, who received a citation for "disturbing the peace" when she got into a fight at Crenshaw High School:
"The ticket was eventually dismissed, but Kieta said she missed three days of school to deal with it and was never given a chance to work out tensions with the other student. 'We should be getting counseling to find the root causes of our problems instead of getting tickets,' she said."
In her blog, "Rally Calls for Fewer Police Citations of LAUSD Students ," Watanabe drew attention to our call for an equal protection plan to protect students from all forms of criminalization, not limited to truancy and tardy ticketing:
Criollo said his group is discussing with Chief 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.
In her story in the local African-American weekly, "State of the School District: Deasy sees improvement ," Cynthia Griffin has CRC organizer Ashley Franklin countering the LAUSD's assertions:
The LAUSD followed the CRC rally with a statement accusing CRC of citing old data, and stating that the district police department “has not, and will not engage in any form of biased or discriminatory enforcement activities based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, student disability or geographic location.”
CRC countered that its finding are based on the latest figures LAUSD has released to them. The district also said it has significantly reduced the number of truancy citations since 2011, with a 54 percent reduction since last school year alone.
Ashley Franklin, a CRC spokesperson, said the reduction in truancy citations is tied to a change by the Los Angeles City Council in the daytime curfew laws. But the organization wants a reduction in all citations—vandalism, possession of tobacco, disturbing the peace (fighting on campus).
This, Franklin said, will decriminalize student conduct and discipline.
As our truancy ticketing victory captures national attention and shapes the national debate, we want to remember the tremendous collaboration it took to get here.
For their leadership, we thank Councilmember Tony Cardenas and his staff, Judge Michael Nash, and LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia. We also appreciate the support of all the LAUSD board members and city councilmembers who supported and voted for the amendment, and the role played by the LA School Police Dept and LAPD, with their openness to principled negotiation and to following the community’s lead.
And we especially thank our partners ACLU (SoCal), Public Counsel, and our allies in the LA Chapter of the Dignity School Campaign—CADRE, Children's Defense Fund and Youth Justice Coalition, who we continue to work with to monitor and enforce the restructured policies.
But most importantly, we want to thank again the hundreds of young people, parents, teachers, organizers and leaders who ARE the Community Rights Campaign. We will not stop until all student conduct and discipline is decriminalized! Hey LAUSD, I'm Pre-Med, Pre-Job, NOT Pre-Prison!