California's law enforcement agencies have replaced school administrators as the disciplinarian for conduct-related issues, part of a growing problem that has created racial disparities in the criminalization of youth, according to the American Civil Liberties Union's "The Right to Remain a Student" report.
The report, released on Wednesday, showed that California school districts rely heavily on police officers to combat disciplinary issues in the classroom.
USC assistant education professor Briana Hinga said that enlisting law enforcement to deal with classroom issues is counterproductive.
"It essentially creates a policing state within the classroom and a relationship of fear between students and teachers," Hinga said. "If you see that your teacher is potentially going to set you up to be put into the criminal system, then you don't have this relationship of trust where you know your teacher is looking out for you and foster your learning."
The report revealed that more than half of the 119 California school districts that were studied authorize school administrators to contact law enforcement for minor infractions such as bullying, vandalism and disrupting class lessons. Such school policing has increased the number of school-related referrals to law enforcement, which has disproportionately harmed low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities, the ACLU said.
Alan Green, an associate education professor at USC, said that he has seen firsthand the impact of treating students like criminals.
"Just last week I was out in a detention center in L.A. County where you see many black and brown individuals who talk about their experiences with law enforcement early in their school experiences, being suspended, and that leading to contact with the system, but also being out of school and getting involved in more serious issues," Green said.
A father of twin daughters, Green believes that young people should to be afforded the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
"As a parent it's really concerning," he said. "Young people make mistakes. If my children or anyone else's children make a mistake, I want them to be able to learn from it and get the help that they need. It's sad to see that the mistakes we all made when we were young will follow them for the rest of their lives."
The Los Angeles Unified School District requires police officers to have a warrant or court order present before they can question a student. However, once police are called, their actions are often unlawful and target minority students, the ACLU said.
According to the report, 98 percent of California's school districts that were analyzed have failed to get parental consent before the police interviewed students. Ninety-nine percent did not require officers to inform students of their constitutional rights.
The report suggested that school districts only contact police for situations where someone might be in imminent physical danger.
"It's hard to say if there is a precise reason — there are a few," said Victor Leung, a staff attorney at the ACLU and one of the report's authors. "Their communities are where the enforcement is concentrated like in Los Angeles, South L.A. or Watts. … There are also implicit biases at work."
The Los Angeles Unified School District has taken steps to fix this issue, adopting the School Climate Bill of Rights in 2013 to create a culture of safe and healthy interactions.
However, more systematic changes need to be developed before things improve.
"This situation is a symptom of a much bigger problem based on the history and the structure that have been created," Hinga said. "There are a lot of things that we can do. Individuals can take ownership of their responsibility within the situation. Whether you're a teacher or doing research on schools or are a police officer being conscious of your intentions."
Annenberg Media reached out to a Los Angeles Unified School District spokesperson with multiple phone calls but did not receive a response.
Reach Staff Reporter Terrance Davis here.