$100 for cussing on campus? $200 for fighting on the playground? $300 for showing up late?
Tickets like these are all too common at LAUSD, says Manuel Criollo, lead organizer for the Community Rights Campaign. In fact, his parent org -- the Labor-Community Strategy Center -- recently forced the district to release data showing that the Los Angeles School Police Department issues an average of 30 citations to L.A. kids each day.
That's a total of 33,500 tickets over the last three school years...
... handed to children between the ages of 10 and 18. And for violations as silly as carrying a Sharpie, reports California Watch in a sprawling investigation today:
More than 40 percent of these court citations were to kids 14 and younger, mostly for disturbing the peace, followed by daytime curfew violations, including tardiness, and scattered tickets for cigarettes, lighters, marijuana, vandalism or having graffiti "tools," such as a Sharpie. Black students, about 10 percent of the district's student body, received 15 to 20 percent of all tickets, depending on the year, and Latino students, 74 percent of enrollment, also received a disproportionate number.
Well, there's one way to get L.A. youth to drop out of school at ever-more-alarming rates! (Only 56 percent of high-schoolers graduated last year.) Just bombard them with infractions, even misdemeanors, as punishment for kids-will-be-kids behavior -- until they're too broke/frustrated to come back.
Keep in mind, too, that these numbers don't include full-on arrests, nor incidents handled by the LAPD.
And that's partly what makes them so sketchy. Instead of being handled within a rigid legal system with public defenders and due process and the like, school-cop citations send students through what Criollo calls "informal juvenile traffic court," where the judge asks each violator a couple questions before "arbitrarily" handing them a dollar amount for their infraction. (Usually between $75 and $300, according to Criollo. Practice, we suppose, for the L.A. City Hall ticket storm they'll be subjected to as grownups.)
"Young people in school have much more limited rights than adults, because the administration is playing the role of the parent," says Criollo.
This leads to such above-the-law campus police measures as random searches and racial profiling -- yet ends with very adult consequences in a court of law.
Aside from this questionable legal process, the core issue here is the effect that LAUSD's "punishment culture" is having on its students in the long run. Studies have shown that kids who get tangled up in the legal system are much more likely to drop out of school -- a vicious cycle that dooms their career prospects as an adult.
So who's to blame?
Teachers complain they can't be held solely responsible for student discipline. And LAUSD officials argued in a statement in March that...
"... many intervention programs are in place but young students do not always follow the program. ... A visit to a juvenile-court referee should help make the student aware that fighting is not tolerated in society."
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Right. But it also helps make students aware that society -- fronted by unqualified quacks like the cops in the Los Angeles School Police Department -- is going to ignore their rights and shake them down for all they're worth. (For more horror stories, see "LAUSD's Finest: How an Oblivious School Board Lets a Tiny, Scandal-Ridden Force Endanger L.A. Kids.")
Until the discipline process can reach a happier medium, the Labor-Community Strategy Center is demanding an "immediate moratorium on all tickets," says Criollo.
In response, according to California Watch, "district police officials declined to stop ticketing, but have engaged in community discussions about reforms." Which, in district-speak, means that a whole bunch of angry people have been gathering in rooms and yelling at each other, to no avail.