For years, using police officers and fining students were considered the ways to combat school truancy. Instead, dropout rates are still extremely high in the Los Angeles Unified School District and today this punitive policy hurts more than it helps.
This negative outcome became particularly noticeable when police began to detain students who, despite being late, were on their way to school. Because of this, many students chose not to go to school when they were running late for fear of getting a ticket.
Given the situation, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) have committed to considering “the spirit” of curfew laws, which is to target students who are literally playing hooky and not those who are interested in attending school and are late for some reason.
The changes were positive in general, decreasing the number of tickets. However, we think it is necessary to establish goodwill through an ordinance that also addresses the various aspects of school truancy.
To that end, today the Public Safety Committee will review a proposal from Councilman Tony Cárdenas. This proposal seeks an ordinance to prevent students getting ticketed while on their way to school, eliminate monetary fines as a penalty, eliminate the requirement for students to make court appearances if they agree to counseling, and require LAPD data collection and reporting of statistics on the demographics of the students being fined.
The measure also requires different factors that cause truancy are addressed, from the lack of reliable public transportation to students’ lack of connection with schools.
The current school truancy policy was created in the 1990s to prevent youth delinquency. What is needed now is a pedagogical focus to avoid dropouts and positively channel student concerns.