Los Angeles schools decriminalize discipline

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Students caught misbehaving in the nation's second largest school district will be sent to the principal's office rather than the courthouse as part of sweeping disciplinary reforms announced Tuesday by Los Angeles schools.

Under the new policy, police officers at Los Angeles Unified School District won't arrest or cite students for low-level offenses like possessing alcohol or marijuana but will instead refer students to administrators or counselors -- a shift that educators and justice officials say will prevent students from becoming mired in the criminal justice system.

The decriminalization of student discipline marks the latest rollback to "zero tolerance" policies that were instituted in the 1970s and 1980s and intensified in the wake of the Columbine school shooting. School districts from California to Florida have instituted so-called restorative justice measures, which aim to address the underlying reasons for misconduct rather than mete out harsh punishments. The Obama administration in January issued recommendations favoring conflict resolution over arrests and citations.

"We want students to be with us, not pushed out and sent to jail," Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy said. "We have been disproportionately incarcerating, disproportionately citing, and disproportionately suspending youth of color, and it's wrong."

With more than 640,000 students at nearly 1,100 schools and charter schools, Los Angeles is among the largest school districts to adopt less punitive discipline. The district's more than 350 officers make up the largest school police force in the country.

The new policy includes infractions like possessing alcohol, tobacco and less than an ounce of marijuana, along with most schoolyard fights.

The rules are in place for the current school year and direct school police to follow a step-by-step formula that could result in conferences with parents, drug counseling or interventions at off-site counseling centers. Previously, such offenses would send a student to court or probation.

More serious violations like selling drugs or brandishing a weapon will still merit arrest or citation.

"This is about changing behavior," school board member M

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