The Los Angeles City Council today gave preliminary approval to truancy law changes that would dramatically reduce a base fine for skipping school from $250 to $20 for a third offense.
Dozens of students, teachers and community organizers attended the council meeting to express support for reducing the severity of penalties for skipping class, arguing that steep fines do not encourage youths to stay in school.
Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash and Los Angeles Unified School District board President Monica Garcia also expressed strong support for the changes.
The plan, introduced by Councilman Tony Cardenas, proposes new penalty options for a first or second violation. Offenders could either propose a plan for how to improve their attendance or perform community service, tutoring or mentoring, or attend an after-school program.
With county, state and court fees added in, third and future offenses would run a minimum $155, down from $1,075 under the current ordinance, which would also prevent police from issuing tickets during the first hour of school to students who are within a three-block radius of their campus.
The council voted 14-0 to ask the City Attorney's Office to draft an ordinance that includes the changes and bring it back to the City Council for final approval next week.
Cardenas said student attendance rates are directly related to schools' success rates, and truancy tickets with high penalties are not an incentive to return to class.
Los Angeles police officers issued more than 47,000 tickets between 2004- 2009. During that same period, the truancy rate statewide increased from 5 percent to more than 28 percent, according to the California Department of Education.
"We're going from a purely punitive model to a restorative justice model," Cardenas said.
The tickets usually force students to miss additional classroom time and work to resolve tickets in court, Cardenas said.
The proposed ordinance would require the LAPD to publish statistics twice a year showing how many minors were issued tickets, along with their age, ethnicity, race and gender.
The changes are supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Public Counsel Law Center, a pro bono public interest law firm.
"The ultimate goal is to encourage youth to go to school," Nash told the council. And we think that our policy and this ordinance is designed to make school attendance a student issue, a family issue, a school issue and a community issue, and not a criminal issue.
-City News Service