Los Angeles’ top juvenile court judge is objecting to a planned diversion of $13 million to school police there from state funds earmarked to provide special learning assistance to disadvantaged kids.
In a June 6th letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash said this particular pot of money should not be diverted to support the L.A. district’s own school police force, which has an annual budget of around $57 million.
Nash expressed “great respect” for recent efforts to reduce school suspensions and referrals to police, but said he did “not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”
“On the contrary,” the judge said, “there has been a wealth of research that indicates that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment.”
“This explains why, as part of a nationwide discipline reform process that has gained significant traction of late, there is a specific focus on reducing police involvement in routine school discipline matters,” Nash wrote.
Nash presides over one of the biggest juvenile courts in the country and was a recent president of the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges. In that role he also wrote to the White House expressing concerns about schools rushing to obtain federal money to put more school police on campuses.
Judge Nash has been involved in efforts in Los Angeles to rein in the use of school police on campuses; practices were leading to the annual ticketing of tens of thousands students for tardiness, truancy, schoolyard fights and other minor infractions.
Nash argues that excessive use of police in essentially school discipline matters — and matters he said were better addressed through counseling and family support — were contributing to a “school-to-prison pipeline” putting kids at risk of greater, not less, trouble with the criminal justice system.
Other interest groups concerned with the school to prison pipeline in California include: Children’s Defense Fund, ACLU of Southern California, Youth Justice Coalition, CADRE, Community Rights Campaign of the Labor Community Strategy Center in LA and Public Counsel (the nation’s largest pro bono law firm focused on rolling back school-police ticketing in Los Angeles), National Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the Center for Public Integrity.
Other California School Districts considering using money reserved for vulnerable students to supplement school police include Sacramento, Long Beach and Kern Union High School District, a Central Valley district with a record of high rates of student expulsion or transfers.
Handle With Care will be writing the California Unified School Districts and interest groups mentioned above. What is happening in California is that the Counties rather than the school are dictating policy and programming, and the policies and programming being provided are not meeting the real needs of the schools. As a result the counties have unintentionally created a school to prison pipeline. What needs to happen is that the power to choose programming needs to revert back to the Local School Boards and Schools. The fact is that the prison pipeline will dry up as soon as schools regain and demand the right to choose programming and policy that suits the real needs of the school, its educators and its students.