California Capitol
Photo by Flickr user amitp/ Creative Commons
California Capitol
Photo by Flickr user amitp/ Creative Commons

Student activists in Boyle Heights and elsewhere in the state have fought for years against what they view as unjust school discipline practices, including expensive truancy tickets for   students who arrived late to school.

Their cause resonates in communities across California, and their concerns reached the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown as a handful of school reform bills last week. Brown signed four of the bills into law.

In Los Angeles, the shift in direction regarding school discipline policy took place in February 2012, when the Los Angeles City Council voted to drastically limit tardiness and truancy fines, helping to keep youth out of court and debt and in the classroom.

But activists still find issues with the rate of suspensions and expulsions and the students it affects. A recent EdSource survey shows that school discipline practices disproportionately impacts Latino and African American youth and their families. Post-Columbine zero-tolerance rules resulted in over 750,000 suspensions in Los Angeles in the 2009-2010 school year, according to a study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

Advocates say these four new laws will bring positive change:

1. Pupil rights: suspension or expulsion: alternatives and other means of correction (AB 1729)
Instead of school principals or superintendents immediately suspending or expelling students, they must first try offense- and age-appropriate alternatives, such as community service or anger-management sessions.

2. Pupils: readmission (SB 1088)
Public schools cannot deny enrollment or readmission based solely on the student’s contact with the juvenile justice system.

3. Pupil discipline: suspensions and expulsions (AB 2537)
School administrators will be given greater discretion to use alternative discipline methods, rather than zero-tolerance expulsion, for certain acts, including possession of firearms or medications. Students with toy guns and over-the-counter or prescribed medications will no longer be subject to mandatory expulsion.

4. School districts: truancy (AB 2616)
The bill more clearly defines valid excuses for tardiness and truancy and specific penalties for each truancy report.

Brown vetoed AB 2242, which would have ended administrators’ ability to long-term suspend or expel students for “willful defiance.” The existing law accounts for 42 percent of suspensions in California. With the bill, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson hoped to address the concern that students of color are more likely to be accused of willful defiance than white students.

Do you believe these laws will make a substantial difference in Boyle Heights schools?

Stay tuned next week for a Boyle Heights Beat youth reporter’s account of getting ticketed at the front doors of her school.

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