Updated: Los Angeles schools make discipline less harsh

Stock photo by Alejandro Cortes via Flickr Creative Commons

Students at the nation's second largest school district will now be less likely to be arrested or cited for low-level offenses - such as cutting class, possessing small amounts of marijuana or picking fights - district officials announced Tuesday.

“Some of it is just a mistake that could be resolved through a teachable moment, through counseling, through day to day dialog,” said Steven Zipperman, chief of L.A. School District Police, the largest school police force in the country.

Instead of being put on probation, many students will be referred to principals or counselors at off-campus community centers.

“If they don’t show up or don’t complete process, the paperwork comes back to us and the regular process begins through criminal justice system,” Zipperman told KPCC.

Zoe Rawson, of the Community Rights Campaign, said a focus on intervention marks a shift in philosophy that will prevent students, especially minorities, from becoming mired in the criminal justice system.

Jaws dropped in 2012 when school officials reported 10,000 kids were ticketed or arrested by L.A. school police every year – many of them minorities and half of them students in middle school.

The district educates more around 640,000 students at nearly 1,100 schools.

The changes are part of a trend toward eliminating "zero tolerance" policies and align with reforms issued in January by the Obama administration.

Many L.A. Unified schools may not have the capacity to provide positive interventions in lieu of police force. Counseling services whittled away after the recession, but the school police budget grew.

But Zipperman said officers can step in to provide that guidance.

This story has been updated.