As the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) begins its academic year weeks earlier than normal, Superintendent John Deasy laid out his vision, the accomplishments and the concerns within the district during his annual message to the district recently held at George Washington Preparatory High School. One of those concerns was brought to the forefront on Aug. 9 during a rally led by the Labor/Community Strategy Center Community Rights Campaign (CRC) and involving students, parents and teachers.
The rally was held in front of LAUSD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and protesters were urging the LAUSD and its police department to start the new year with a comprehensive written plan designed to protect students of color from punitive and discriminatory ticketing patterns.
According CRC, during a three-year span, from 2009 to 2011, 18 percent of the 33,845 citations issued went to African American students, who make up only 10 percent of the LAUSD student body population, and more than 71 percent of the tickets were issued to young men.
The LAUSD followed the 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.
This year the district will start a new policy of referring truant students to a non-court, district-sponsored diversion program. The previous policy was officers who found students truant in public had the discretion to give the students a citation (for violation of the daytime curfew law) or make sure they get to school.
Now students will be sent to a diversion program that the district is operating in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles.
According to Debra Duardo, director of pupil services with the district, officers will now have the option of referring a truant student to one of 13 youth source centers scattered around the city.
School counselors, who have access to a student’s record are among those staffing the center and will try to determine why the student is not attending school and work out solutions that can eliminate the barriers.
Among the proposals by CRC are: reducing all school-based tickets and arrests by at least 75 percent; limiting the school police role in all school discipline matters and returning those responsibilities to the school administration; reducing the ticketing of Black students as well around certain schools in particular areas; and establishing a parent-student discipline review panel.
During his state-of-the district address, Superintendent Deasy stressed that the goal was to produce career-and-college-ready students, and he pointed out some of the many milestones that LAUSD achieved last school year, including reducing the number of suspensions from 5.3 to 3.9 percent of students.
This is an area where CRC and other organizations have expressed concern, because a great percentage of those suspended are African American, particularly males.
Deasy said the district had reached its goal of having the majority of students (86 percent) say they feel safe at school. Additional highlights included the fact that 67 percent of all 10th-graders passed both the math and English portions of the high school exit exam the first time they took it last year; 75 percent passed math or English; and 88 percent of 12th-graders passed the test.
Other data included: 42,000 students took advance placement classes last year, which is an 8 percent increase from the previous year, and African American students had the single greatest growth rate of passing these classes.
Remarking that LAUSD lives in a state where people seem to have given up on public education, Deasy pointed out that although last year L.A. received $5,245 in funding for each student in its district (compared to the $14,000-$16,000 in districts in New York and New Jersey), educators were still able to make progress.
And despite the challenges, Deasy wants to see the same thing happen this year. Among the goals are to begin to make good on the technology promises contained in the last bond approved by voters within the next 15 months.
Deasy concluded his presentation by urging teachers, administrators and others in the district to be courageous and speak out when necessary to ensure that every single student graduates from the district career-and-college ready.