August 19, 2012
Daily News: LAUSD truancy-diversion program keeps violators out of the courtsLos Angeles Daily News | Barbara Jones
Chronically truant students will be referred to city-run youth centers rather than funneled into the criminal justice system under a program debuting Monday in Los Angeles Unified.
The truancy-diversion program shifts the focus from punishing troubled students to resolving the problems that result in them frequently skipping school.
Students who receive their third citation for truancy will be referred to one of 13 Youth WorkSource Centers scattered around the city, including San Fernando, Sun Valley and Winnetka, officials said. An LAUSD counselor assigned to each center will work to get troubled kids back in school and on track to graduation.
"This is an extraordinarily positive step, helping children stay out of the juvenile justice system," said Laura Faer, Education Rights director for Public Counsel, a nonprofit group involved in the truancy-diversion effort.
"WorkSource Centers will have other resources linking families and children with job training, after-school support and other services," she said. "This can help stabilize families that are struggling."
The diversion program stems from a campaign launched in May 2010 to halt the overzealous ticketing of tardy and truant students around LAUSD campuses.
Using statistics compiled by the Los Angeles Police Department, Public Counsel and other advocacy groups found that more than 47,000 tickets were issued to students for violating the daytime curfew law from 2004-09.
A disproportionate number were issued to black and Latino students in South and East Los Angeles, with significant numbers in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
Those kids had to appear in court, with a parent, flooding the criminal justice system and creating a hardship for moms and dads who had to miss work and come up with money to pay any fines.
"What we were doing was frustrating for children and for families and for the juvenile court," said City Councilman Tony Cardenas, who championed changes in truancy policies. "We were going after a small issue with a big bat."
Faer said there are myriad reasons for students to be chronically truant, many as simple as being ticketed when the public buses they ride to school run late.
"In Los Angeles County, the number of children with attendance problems had reached a crisis point," she said. "The number of kids cited and put into the court system as a result was astronomical."
Following the recommendation of a countywide taskforce, LAUSD police agreed to end truancy sweeps near campuses and to ask students if they have a legitimate excuse before writing a ticket.
LAUSD Police Chief Steve Zipperman said the number of truancy tickets has already plummeted by 55 percent since the new policy was implemented.
In addition, the City Council amended L.A.'s daytime curfew law, which previously allowed for fines of up to $250 for a first violation.
The updated ordinance allows first- and second-time offenders to receive community service. Third-time offenders have the option of participating in the diversion program or going to court, where they could be fined $20, with additional fees boosting the total cost to $155.
Cardenas said he expects the diversion program to result in significant savings for the court system.
Robert Sainz of the Los Angeles Community Development Department said each youth center receives $900,000 from the city and $600,000 from the school district. They have previously been staffed with only city workers but now will have a counselor from the district's Pupil Services Division who can access student records and help assess their educational needs.
"In Los Angeles, we're moving in the right direction, and LAUSD and the police are making it happen," Faer said. "They shows great promise for really transforming children who are not going to school."