Los Angeles school, law enforcement and county officials are meeting Thursday with a team from an Atlanta suburb that pioneered methods to reduce on-campus arrests. They hope to create a similar, more holistic system to deal with misbehaving students.
Rather than focusing on punishment, these methods focus on looking at bad behavior as a symptom in kids, who are still mentally and emotionally developing, and trying to deal with the root causes of their actions.
The technical assistance team is headed by Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Georgia, who has worked on changing the response to low-level juvenile offenses since 2003. He has helped officials in counties across the country drop their arrest rates. In his own county, Teske's efforts dropped the fighting offenses in schools by 87 percent between 2002 and 2010; graduation rates rose by 20 percent.
Los Angeles, home to the country's second-largest school district, largest school police force and largest juvenile court system, will bring its own challenges.
For years, reform backers here have worked to change "get-tough" measures that actually work against education goals. Often these measures, critics say, unfairly target black and Latino students.
But it's only in the last year or so that groups across the country have come together and the issue has gained momentum, led primarily by the efforts of Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court.
Officials have softened their responses to truancy and student attendance problems by focusing on identifying the problem and providing counseling, rather than ticketing a student for being late.
According to statistics for 2009 through 2011 from the L.A. School Police Department, which deals with a portion of L.A. Unified campuses, on-campuses arrests spike in junior high. Even behavior like pushing another student can sometimes lead to a battery charge.
School police issued more than 33,500 tickets to youths up to 19 years old for reasons that included fighting, truancy, loitering or possession of markers that could be used for tagging, according to data provided by L.A. Unified from 2009 through 2011, analyzed by the Labor Community Strategy Center.
Officials Thursday hoped to look at the various school-based offenses and create a "graduated response model" that takes into account the number of times a student has committed a particular misdemeanor offense. That can help identify them for an appropriate diversion program.