Education LAPD Willful Defiance

College Track Comes to Watts, “Ghost Suspensions,” and Use-of-Force


On Thursday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Joe Busciano, education groups, students, and supporters, gathered at Jordan High School to celebrate the launch of an important new program in Watts called “College Track.”

Garcetti and Busciano were joined by Green Dot, the Partnership for LA Schools, Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, the Emerson Collective, and the Wasserman Foundation, with whom College Track has partnered to bring crucial resources and services to Watts students.

College Track, which has already been successfully implemented in other areas, is an innovative program to help kids in underserved communities attend and graduate college. The 10-year program supports kids from 9th grade through completion of their college degree.

The program provides students with academic support, leadership training, scholarships, help with housing, and college and financial advice.

Through College Track, 93% of the 2,400 participating students were accepted into a four-year college, and those kids had a graduation rate 2.5 times that of low income students nationally.

(Here’s a sweet video of a young College Track participant named Alex, who wants to major in computer science at Boston College, speaking at the event.)


In 2013, Los Angeles banned suspensions for “willful defiance,” a broad term that could be slapped onto anything from talking back in class, to not having the right materials for an assignment, to a dress code violation. Suspension rates have plummeted in Los Angeles and across California as school districts have been moving away from harsh school discipline practices toward more healing restorative justice practices. The Los Angeles Unified School District also announced last year that it would stop issuing citations to students for youthful offenses like truancy, possession of alcohol or marijuana, and fighting, in an effort to stop the flow of students into the juvenile justice system. But the transition to smarter school discipline has not been an easy one.

Last week, a story from the LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume revealed that some LAUSD teachers said that lack of financial resources had resulted in half-implemented restorative justice policies, leaving teachers, no longer able to suspend students for “willful defiance,” without proper tools to handle unruly classrooms.

And those massively reduced suspension rates may not be as impressive as they seem, thanks to informal “ghost suspensions.” Some advocates say schools are lowering suspension rates by sending kids home with their parents or putting them in a separate classroom all day without counting them as out-of-school suspensions.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Nadra Nittle has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

As the push for restorative justice grows nationwide, LAUSD is not only citing fewer students for minor infractions but suspending fewer also. In May 2013, the school board passed the School Climate Bill of Rights to ban suspensions for willful defiance. This catchall category included infractions like talking back or cursing and faced criticism from activists who said they led to racial disparities in school discipline.

After eliminating willful defiance suspensions, the suspension rate in LAUSD dropped to 1.3 percent, half of L.A. County’s rate of 2.8 percent and more than three times lower than the state rate of 4.4 percent.

But community organizers such as McGowan question whether the district’s impressive suspension rate tells the whole story about discipline in LAUSD. His organization represents students in South Los Angeles schools, where they’re subject to informal suspensions, he said.

“They find a room to send them,” he said of local schools. “They’re not going to call it in-school suspensions, but one high school has a Room 100 where they send kids.”

McGowan also asserted that schools sometimes remove students “having a bad day” from class by asking parents to pick them up.

“They’re sending kids out of the classroom for extended periods of time,” he said. “They’re just not counting it as out-of-school suspensions.”

Earl Perkins, LAUSD’s assistant superintendent of school operations, denied McGowan’s claims.

“Informal suspensions are not in our makeup,” he said. “There might have been one case. We have referral rooms for students, but it’s not suspension. They may go out of class, but it’s not suspension. We don’t have ghost suspensions. It’s not supposed to be happening. If it does, it’s dealt with very severely.”

But like McGowan, Kim McGill, a Youth Justice Coalition organizer, expressed concerns about the tactics LAUSD uses to lower its rate of suspensions and expulsions. She said that some schools pressure families to transfer their children to continuation or alternative schools to keep discipline numbers down.

“Our main concern is that schools are pushing students out of the comprehensive school district,” she said. “Our concern is that schools can reformat things so it looks like expulsion [but] has a different name.”


In an interview with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Matt Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said his goal is to reduce officer use-of-force numbers, through de-escalation training and an examination of the less-than-lethal weapons officers use.

Johnson is the only black member of the civilian commission tasked with overseeing the LAPD. Johnson says his personal experiences with racism from law enforcement officers in New Jersey (his home state) give him a unique perspective on the “crisis of confidence” between communities of color and law enforcement.

Earlier this week, WLA pointed to KPCC’s gathering of five years worth of data on police involved-shootings. The LA-based NPR station found that LA officers (LASD, LAPD, and others) shot 375 people, of whom, about one in four was unarmed.

Here’s a clip from the interview:

JOHNSON: We’ll look at tactics in training. We’ll look at the tools that they have, whether it’s Tasers or beanbag shotguns, and we will also look at things like de-escalation techniques which are really – you’re talking about communication skills, verbal skills to bring a situation down. If it’s at a six, let’s try and bring it down to a two rather than having it get to a ten.


MCEVERS: You’ve been criticized by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement because you now work inside the system. Is that going to make it hard for you to work with certain people in the community?

JOHNSON: Well, I think, first of all, you have to recognize that that is one group out of many, many, many groups, and it’s not really about me as an individual although they may say otherwise. Look; I understand the pain and anger that comes out of where they’re coming from. Their anger is at the institution, and as president of the Police Commission, I am absolutely the representative, the primary representative of the commission. And one – you know, along with the chief of police, we are primary representatives of the police department.

So my focus is really on two things. We have to really look very hard at every one of these use-of-force instances and judge them fairly. And secondly and probably more importantly, we need to be making sure that we’re doing everything we can to decrease the numbers of use-of-force.


On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced the creation of a new award, called the “Preservation of Life Medal,” to recognize officers who “display commendable restraint” rather than use deadly force. The medal, Chief Beck said, would be on the same level as the Medal of Valor.

The police chief pointed to two particular recent instances in which officers safely took suspects into custody. In one of the incidents, two officers wrestled a man with a sawed-off rifle into submission. “It could have easily been an incident where deadly force was deployed, but it was not,” Beck said.

“I know many times at the commission, you hear about the times when officers are forced into using deadly force,” Beck said to the commission. “But I also want to make sure we cover and recognize the many times law enforcement officers are able to save lives by their restraint.”

The LA Times editorial board applauds the decision as part of a larger effort on the part of Chief Beck to address use-of-force issues. Here’s a clip:

Of course, an award alone won’t immediately change public opinion or police behavior. But it’s a step in the right direction. What’s more, the announcement at Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting was just one manifestation of the attention Beck and other L.A. officials have been paying recently to the public’s concerns about deadly encounters between officers and suspects.

At the meeting, Beck described the details of a fatal officer-involved shooting on Monday in Lake Balboa, and he reported statistics on the use of force and how many of the suspects involved were African American. This is new. In recent years, Beck typically hasn’t talked about shootings by officers during his weekly report to the commission (because such shootings had been way down, at least until this year).

These actions and others, such as the expansion of training for police officers in how to de-escalate tense situations, suggest that Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti are taking seriously complaints from the public about unnecessary use of force. After a slow start, Garcetti has called on Beck and Matt Johnson, a recent appointee to the commission, to respond. To their credit, they have.

But not everyone is pleased with the new award. Beck’s announcement of the new award raised the hackles of leaders from the police union, who made the point that officers hold their fire whenever possible, but shouldn’t hold their fire to the point of endangering their lives.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the police union’s statement.

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