Los Angeles report: Limit suspensions, don't fine truants

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Led by a top juvenile court judge, a special task force in Los Angeles County is releasing a report attacking excessive student suspensions and cautioning against law enforcement solutions to truancy.

The Center for Public Integrity has a near-final draft of the report, which has some illuminating lessons about the types of attendance-improvement efforts that succeed — and fail — in certain parts of the populous Southern California region and other areas of the country.

The School Attendance Task Force has a broad range of members who began meeting in late 2010 to discuss how to keep kids more engaged in school in the metropolis, which is afflicted by low graduation rates.

The chairman is Judge Michael Nash, who presides over one of America’s biggest juvenile courts, which is in Los Angeles County. Others include an anti-truancy leader in the county’s District Attorney’s office, the chief of school police in Los Angeles, a Los Angeles city police representative, a public defender and several civil rights groups and city and various school district leaders.

One fundamental recommendation from the task force: “Have zero tolerance for zero-tolerance policies.” In other words, restrict suspensions of students for lower-tier offenses, such as “defiance,” and ensure that students get adequate counseling in school before removing them. The report also calls for using the justice system for “solutions and supports” rather than financial penalties for truancy.

Los Angeles is being rocked this week by the arrest of an elementary school teacher who allegedly committed sexually-motivated child abuse in a school. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s high school graduation rate is only about 56 percent, one of the lowest in California.

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