Target: Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Deasy
Goal: Applaud decision to stop criminalizing unruly students and start counseling them instead
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest district in the country, is continuing to shake things up when it comes to discipline and the ‘zero tolerance’ policy. The district recently announced it will pursue a policy of scaling back its arrests, citations, and suspensions of its students, in favor of recommending low-level offenders for conflict resolution and counseling. Ever since the infamous Columbine shooting, school districts have sworn by the zero tolerance policy for handling any and all violent infractions – but recent studies have shown that these policies disproportionately affect students of color and have produced what is called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Students of color in particular are at risk for being treated like criminals to the point where they end up in jail, and the harsher the punishments that are doled out, the more infractions actually occur.
Therefore the zero tolerance policy has created an environment even less suitable for learning, contrary to its goals, and it is time for school districts to pursue more compassionate methods of disciplining students. LAUSD teachers, faculty, and administration are now to prioritize counseling over discipline, in order to uncover the reasons for misbehavior and address them directly instead of merely punishing students for what have become largely arbitrary infractions. Suspensions, citations, and arrests were being handed out for behaviors as simple as talking in class, “talking back” to teachers, or wearing baggy clothing. Then in 2013 LAUSD became the first school district in the United States to prohibit all suspensions justified by “willful defiance,” and the district saw its rate of suspension drop a whopping 40 percent. Now the district has taken it one step further by deciding that minor infractions, such as fights with classmates or the possession of alcohol or under an ounce of marijuana, will be dealt with by administrators, counselors, and parents through a variety of outlets including mediation, conferences, and drug counseling.
It is important to pursue policies that stop automatically viewing students as criminals and instead treat them with respect and compassion. Students should not be forced to miss school for suspension or jail time because of minor infractions that are just part of the experimentation of growing up. By signing this petition, you are thanking the LAUSD superintendent and board for being a leader among school districts when it comes to shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline.
Dear Superintendent Dr. John Deasy and the LAUSD board,
As you know, the school-to-prison pipeline is crippling our country’s ability to educate its young people and transform them into ethical, responsible members of society. It is disproportionately criminalizing students of color for misbehavior that occurs across all ethnicities and socioeconomic classes. Behaviors like rebelling against authority, fighting among peers, and wearing alternative or subversive clothing are all part of experimenting with the self and growing up – they are not behaviors that should be met with force, suspensions, or jail time. Keeping kids out of school for behaviors that are normal for kids is counterproductive and holds the American people back, especially poor communities of color.
Thank you for deciding to pursue a policy of restorative justice rather than zero tolerance. Thank you for acknowledging that zero tolerance only hurts American students and communities. I urge you to continue being a vocal leader among American school districts in ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Slp1 via Wikimedia Commons