The Beginning of a Criminal Record
By Jeniffer Cruz, Second Year Public Affairs and Education Social Transformation
The Los Angeles Unified School District has implemented a Zero Tolerance Policy in inner-city schools. The Zero Tolerance Policy was initially executed in order to set control over students’ school attendance, educational improvement, and overall school engagement. The goal of the policy is to improve stressful situations for many students however, it has only added more issues for students and their families. School administrations can easily begin a criminal record for students by giving them truancy police citations. School districts that have used the Zero Tolerance Policy criminalize students instead of identifying permanent solutions for students and their education. The Zero Tolerance Policy usually includes a battle against fighting, smoking, drugs, aggressive behavior, tardiness, and even truancy.
School attendance and truancy is a common issue in LAUSD; the district attempts to use court citations in order to reduce the number of students who miss school. Yet, school administrations do not consider other factors that contribute to the purpose of a student not having consistent attendance. Most of the LAUSD school campuses are located in low-income high-crime communities that are predominantly made up of Black and Brown families. Due to financial inequalities, students have to take on a responsibility to either help themselves or their families. Therefore, students have to put school on pause and join the workforce at an early age. By doing so, they become victims of the Zero Tolerance Policy that usually pushes students out of school due to suspensions or being expelled. These extreme measures discourage students from being involved in their educational future.
The suspension of a student might seem like an immediate solution for a small problem but school staff do not consider that suspended students might not have parent supervision at home because they are working. The Zero Tolerance Policy not only criminalizes and targets marginalized communities but they also create a prison-to-school pipeline. According to the Juvenile Law Center, students who are suspended are also more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, which later guides them into being a victim of mass incarceration. Black and Brown students are often the target of this policy that does not encourage education but instead finds different flaws within the community and use that against them. Some of these flaws can be gang activity, drug use, and violence, these crimes are out of the community’s control and the community members are the ones who become the victims of such issues. For instance, students might be witnesses of homicides, drug use, parental neglect, and even lack of support. The policy advises administrators to have on-campus police officers to prevent crime and violence. Nonetheless, school campuses set a prison-like environment where they are being watched by police officers and imply that young teenagers do not have self-control and cannot be disciplined by school staff which requires the administration to bring on the police force.
There is a large number of public school students who understand the difference between police officers, for example, some are school police, gang units, and regular cops. I was part of the public school system from K-12, where I learned the difference between police officers and police cars before I learned the difference between a local community college and a UC. This is the reality for many of us who had to grow up in a community where we are constantly targeted for being low income and being a person of color. It is not a coincidence that in predominantly Black and Brown communities, there is much more harassment or as some like to call it, enforcement, by local police departments. The police force is commonly used to have control over people. Local police departments have an appearance on campus where they allow school staff to do random searches on student’s belongings. In other words, school staff with the surveillance of police officers can randomly choose a certain number of students from each classroom and conduct a random search. Not only are students patted down while standing against the wall but their personal belongings are also searched to find any illegal things. For instance, students can be charged with vandalism for carrying a permanent marker in their backpack.
As mentioned in a LA Progressive article, certain students will be removed due to their animal-like behavior in order to prevent disruptions for other students. In most cases, students find education to be their only option to improve their financial and living situations. When students are not at school, it is easy to find them on the street using drugs or being involved with gangs. Therefore, when students are missing class to go to court or because they are suspended they eventually start staying behind. When students begin falling behind, they become frustrated with themselves and teachers. Lack of support from educators is also a contributing factor to why students end up in the juvenile justice system. Juvenile incarceration, drug use, and gang activity all have one common factor and that is the school system failing to help them.
LAUSD’s attempt at improving the life of underrepresented students has only brought them down and has criminalized minors. LAUSD is trying to implement Restorative Justice such as counseling. LAUSD has 1,300 schools and restorative justice does not happen overnight. In the first half of the 2018-19 school year, district schools called police more than 3,000 times. This means that approximately every school in the district called police at least twice during half of one full school year. School campuses heavily rely on police referrals as a method to discipline students. This illustrates that there has not been a set improvement and students are continuously attacked for being people of color and for being victims of financial inequality and crime in their community.
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