L.A. Schools Move from Zero Tolerance to Counseling and Advocacy for Troubled Youth
Oct 10, 2012
By Linda Harris
Los Angeles city officials, police, and school officials entered into a new partnership for dealing with troubled youth. Rather than punishment and issuing of citations for those with minor infractions, students will be offered counseling, support, and referral to appropriate services. These changes are a result of the continuous pressure from advocates, community organizers, parents, and civil rights organizations directed at changing the disciplinary practices which had roots in the zero tolerance policies of the nineties and resulted in early involvement of far too many students at an early age in the criminal justice system. Analysis by The Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles Labor-Community Strategy Center also brought to light that youth of color, particularly African-American youth, were disproportionately represented among those disciplined.
Public officials -- responding to the long-running community complaints and cognizant of the research that suggest that a high school student's first arrest quadrupled the likelihood of dropping out of school --worked with community advocates to develop new options.
Now, instead of citations, truant youth will be referred to one of thirteen youth centers where specialists will assess their needs and connect them to services to put them "back on track". According to Robert Sainz, assistant general manager of L.A.'s Community Development Department and who has been leading Los Angeles "Back on Track" collaboration on dropout recovery, "There's a very big pendulum shift. This is the first time the city and school district are working together specifically to bring students back to school."
Officials in the Los Angeles County Probation Department are also looking at alternative programs to keep students out of the court system and provide them instead with counseling, tutoring and other community services. Additionally, Los Angeles was recently awarded a $12 million Workforce Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to build a dropout recovery system as part of an impressive collaboration among Workforce Investment Boards, city and community leaders, the school district, the community college district, and the chamber of commerce.