Frisking students: Another bad educational idea
School officials tend to run into trouble when they play cop instead of educator. So it was with the dean at Porter Middle School in the San Fernando Valley who unsuccessfully (what on earth was she thinking?) tried to devise her own campus drug sting by dragging a 12-year-old in to be the decoy.
Now the ACLU has filed suit against a Glendale high school for reportedly staging its own version of a "Scared Straight" scenario to keep some possibly at-risk students from joining gangs. The lawsuit claims that the school called in police, who detained about 55 Latino students in a classroom, questioned them, examined and asked about their tattoos, demanded their addresses and even threatened them. There was no evidence, at least before the incident, that the students had broken any laws or school rules.
The school district doesn't appear to contest the facts of the matter; in The Times' story on the subject, a school district spokesman says that this was an educational exercise designed to keep some students who looked like they were on the verge of joining gangs -- hanging out with and admiring known gang members -- from taking the next step.
It's unclear why the ACLU sees this as racial profiling. The students were all of one ethnic group, true; the question is, would school officials have acted the same if they saw a group of white students hanging out with and showing respect for known lawbreakers who were back at school on probation? Were they inclined to bother Latino students whose behavior didn't worry them?
But if the lawsuit is accurate in its description of the incident, the school officials were at least guilty of a really bad idea. Frightening and intimidating students at school, a place where they should feel welcome and safe, could only serve to alienate at-risk teens. Dragging in police when no laws have been broken raised the whole incident to the level of unnecessarily high drama.
How about an assembly or series of assemblies for all students, featuring anti-gang programs and former gangsters who can talk about what they lost through their involvement? Maybe bringing the students into a counselor's office, on an individual basis, for a heart-to-heart? Or, if the administrators needed to get tougher, calling their parents in for a conference?
Being treated like a criminal by school administrators isn't all that likely to prevent a kid from becoming one.
-- Karin Klein
Photo: ACLU attorney David Sapp speaks to the media during a news conference about the lawsuit alleging that students searched by police were racially profiled. Credit: Raul Roa / Times Community News