Public Counsel Tackles School Attendance Crisis

Students stand up for school attendance

Students from the Community Rights Campaign took a field trip to Los Angeles City Hall in February 2012 as the City Council voted 14-0 to end $1,000 tickets for students late to school.

Public Counsel is helping increase school attendance and end $1,000 truancy tickets that made the problem worse.

When Public Counsel learned that a Los Angeles city law for "curfew" violations was being used to arrest, handcuff and fine low-income, students of color on their way to school, we took action.

Education Rights Director Laura Faer told the L.A. Times:  "They are criminalizing kids for coming to school late. It's backward in every way."

Working with our partners at the Community Rights Campaign and ACLU-SC, we found that some 55,000 students had received citations under municipal code section 45.04 from 2005-2010, many for being tardy to school and some even before the school bell hand rung. 

Police regularly waited in front of schools in some of the lowest income parts of the city to arrest, cite and handcuff students walking to school after getting off of public transportation.

Students at City CouncilIn the name of increasing “school attendance,” students a few minutes late missed more valuable class time, as police searched them, filled out citation paperwork, and sometimes forced students to be fingerprinted.  Students missed even more instruction – up to two days -- to attend mandatory court hearings to address the citations.  Parents already struggling to keep food on the table lost wages to accompany students to court.

"I got a ticket at 8:15 a.m. as I was getting off the bus a few blocks from school. I then had to miss a day of school and go to court with my mother, who had to miss a day of work," an 11th grade student told the Community Rights Campaign.

Police, courts, and elected leaders all saw truancy tickets weren’t working.

Public Counsel and our partners worked together with police to change policies, with court leaders to create new services, and with elected leaders to change. It culminated when the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 in February 2012 to amend city law and direct students to services, not tickets with huge fines. Since the new police procedures went into effect, there has been a 51.8% drop in tickets issued between April and July 2011 compared with the same period in 2010.

Click here to read about how students and parents helped police, courts and Los Angeles leaders to change a broken system.

   Judge Michael Nash and Laura Faer

"The court should be a last resort and not a first resort... We're having thousands of kids going to court every year wasting their time and their families’ time for us to give them a fine that most of them can't pay. It makes no sense."

-- Presiding Judge Michael Nash of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court to KPCC-FM

"Students will no longer be placed on the jailhouse track just because their bus was late, they helped a little sister get to school, or they were struggling with a mental health problem."

-- Public Counsel Education Rights Director Laura Faer to the Center for Public Integrity

Get more resources

Connect to more resourcesRead our February 2012 report "Counter Productive and Wasteful: Los Angeles’ Daytime Curfew Pushes Students Away from School and Diverts Resources Away from Real Community Safety." Click here to read now (pdf).   

Click here to read more news clips about how students, parents and communities took a stand against costly, ineffective truancy tickets.