Report Reveals Lack of Schools in LA County Juvenile Justice System

Photo: LA County Probation Department

Campus Kilpatrick is a juvenile camp located in Los Angeles County.

Poor and inconsistent teaching and student apathy were among the findings of a citizen review of the education provided to young inmates in Los Angeles juvenile facilities. A recent report described an environment that was not conducive to learning and where students were more interested in graduating from high school than learning.

“The attitude of most students was either apathetic or antagonistic toward learning activities,” the authors wrote in the 14-page report. “Most teachers seemed to believe that this minimal work was the best that could reasonably be expected of these students,” concludes a recently released report on the findings of a citizen review.

Review commissioners “attribute student resistance primarily to the prison environment, the poor quality and inconsistency of classroom teaching, and the inability to integrate graduate non-teaching adults into classrooms.” class in educational planning,” the report adds.

The commissioners also said the “accepted norm” was for students to do nothing unless they offered a reward like credits for graduation, and even then the credits awarded “are far too generous by relative to the amount of content they master”.

They noted that classes often relied on the use of videos or reading an essay followed by answers to brief questions, but that classes that did not rely on such teaching tools tended to have higher engagement rates between students and teachers.

The result is an environment where “even though all teachers and staff constantly encourage students to work hard and learn enough to succeed, the curriculum structure and teacher practices make it clear that it is what is truly valued.

California’s youth justice system schools, which may include youth ages 12 to 25, are often referred to as “judicial schools” and are operated by county offices of education.

The report’s findings, however, were challenged by Debra Duardo, superintendent of the county’s office of education, who in a written response to the commission challenged its findings while offering to work together to improve what young people experience in youth prisons.

“The report repeatedly suggests what teachers and other staff think, without validating where this information comes from with stated facts,” she wrote. “The results are not based on facts, but on speculation and conjecture.”

In an email to EdSource on Friday, she added: “As a lifelong advocate for young people of promise, I am disappointed with the report released by the Probation Board which does not include a research-based and structured approach to analyze an educational program The information contained in the report does not reflect a fair representation of what happens daily in our schools.

The observations and interviews on which the report is based were conducted by a committee of four people over a period of five months between June and October 2021. Each site visit lasted between 10 and 50 minutes.

The review was conducted by a panel of the Los Angeles County Probation Supervisory Board, a civilian group established by the County Board of Supervisors in 2020 to oversee and advise the probation service and the board of supervisors in the implementation of reforms of the judicial system.

Problems and reform efforts have engulfed Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system for years. A recently settled federal lawsuit revealed problems with young people’s access to education, and a state oversight agency last year found some of the county’s halls “unsuitable for youth confinement.” There was also a 2010 settlement of a class action lawsuit alleging inadequate education programs for youth at the county’s largest juvenile detention center. The reforms focused on 13 major areas, including literacy, instruction, transition, special education and aftercare.

One of the four people who helped conduct the observations and interviews for the latest report is Sean Garcia-Leys, a member of the Probation Oversight Commission and a civil rights attorney.

In the interviews he conducted, he told EdSource, some young people were frustrated and preferred to be left alone while others understood that they only needed a few credits to graduate from college. high school and wanted to get there as quickly as possible.

“But nowhere was there someone who, with a few exceptions, was, ‘I want to learn, I want to understand the world better. I want to be an educated person,” said Garcia-Leys, who was a high school teacher in Los Angeles before becoming a lawyer. “These cards weren’t on the table for them. I don’t describe it as education as much as I describe it as, you know, wanting a degree.

The commissioner spoke representing his own observations, not on behalf of the oversight commission.

Mainor Xuncax was released from Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu in 2019 after spending about six months inside the juvenile camp. By then, he had been in and out of a few other LA County juvenile halls for a series of petty crimes, his first time at age 14.

When it came to his education, he saw a distinct difference in the way school was taught in his community compared to juvenile halls and camps.

“We are here for a reason; we all go through something. Some teachers come with this mentality of, “These kids aren’t listening,” said Xuncax, who grew up near downtown Los Angeles. “I feel like they’re giving up and I feel like we’re lost causes.”

Not all teachers were like that, he said in an interview with EdSource. There were a few who tried to really connect with him and other students. By the time he left camp, he had received enough credits to complete the graduation stage with his class at the complementary school he attended prior to Camp Kilpatrick.

He invited his mother to see him walk on a graduation stage for the first time.

“Just seeing her happy for me was a relief,” Xuncax said of the experience. “Seeing his smile, I felt like I was doing something.”

Xuncax is now 21 and lives in Texas with his daughter and one-year-old girlfriend while working remotely as a youth policy advocate with a Los Angeles-based organization called Arts for Healing and Justice Network. He first became involved with the organization while still at Camp Kilpatrick and was offered an internship shortly after his release at the age of 17. He attributes the change in his life to two factors: the mentorship he received from the organization he now works for and the birth of his daughter.

Teachers aren’t getting the support and training needed to succeed in the system, said Florence Avognon, who worked as an educator in LA County’s juvenile justice system for 20 years and received the Teacher’s Award. of the year in 2012. Her experience confirms the challenges for teachers outlined in the report, she told EdSource.

One of the problems she sees is the lack of professional development for educators who teach in so-called court schools. The county, she said, has developed education programs to help support students inside halls and juvenile camps. But there is a caveat, she added. “They weren’t paying attention to the real need to enrich teachers’ content proficiency so they can better prepare students for these standardized assessments,” she said, referring to state tests that teachers students pass each year.

In December, the Los Angeles County Office of Education responded to a draft of the report, detailing several specific “concerns” about the research methodology, the report authors’ recommendations, and the evaluation of the education program. by the report.

The response also listed reforms and actions the County Office of Education would continue to implement, such as teaching a culturally relevant curriculum, reducing the use of substitute teachers, and engaging with parents.

In 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 823, requiring the state’s youth prisons to close by 2023 and instead send youths to local facilities operated by the state’s 58 counties. . Depending on the seriousness of the allegation, the young person may still be sent to public institutions.

Garcia-Leys is among those who hope the shift to county-run institutions could also mean an improvement in the quality and impact of the education offered.

LA County has yet to decide which facility it will permanently use to house youths who would otherwise have been detained at the state level. This is worrying for Garcia-Leys.

“I’m afraid we’ve been waiting so long to choose a new facility that when it finally happens everyone will be like, ‘Come on, come on, let’s go, let’s make this happen,'” he said. . “And in this rush to find permanent homes for these young people, things like making sure that we create a new school from scratch that is the best it can be – those kinds of steps could be skipped.”

At an upcoming meeting in March, the County Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss a recommendation to select Camp Scott in Santa Clarita and Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu Canyon as permanent facilities.

His concern about the delay in identifying the facility for LA County is part of the reason he joined the effort to compile the report.

“Another big part of it is just making sure we’re on the ground paying attention and giving feedback and monitoring and prioritizing education, especially as we go through new changes” , did he declare.

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