Daily News Editorial | http://bit.ly/nA5ei2
09/21/2011 - THE point of truancy laws is to get kids to go to school. The people who planned Los Angeles' age-old enforcement policy must have missed class the day that simple principle was taught.
Critics say the current policy, in which students caught off campus get $250 citations from the cops, too often lands truants in courtrooms instead of homerooms and causes all sorts of related problems.
A Los Angeles city councilman has suggested a promising alternative. Under a motion this week by Councilman Tony Cardenas, police would back off and schools would take more responsibility for dealing with students caught off campus. This would align city policy with an April policy change in which the LAPD agreed not to conduct truancy sweeps in the first hour of the school day, not to write citations for students on campus, and to give tardy students a chance to explain.
Let's hope city and police officials can work out the details of what sounds like a less heavy-handed plan than we've had.
There's a locker full of anecdotal evidence that what we've had doesn't work.
Sometimes, kids running late for school are stopped and ticketed, making them even later. Kids running late for school see the police near campus and turn around, skipping school entirely rather than be cited as tardy. Kids have to miss school - and their parents miss work - to deal with the citations in court.
The fines can be so heavy, kids hide the citations from their parents, so moms and dads may not find out their sons and daughters are missing class. Eventually the unpaid fines grow unmanageable for many families. Data show the families affected are disproportionately black and Latino.
Obviously, the police should get involved if delinquent kids are causing trouble. But the current truancy laws drag young people into the world of police and courts even if they've committed no real crime.
There's also statistical evidence of a need to try something different.
According to the California Department of Education, 5 percent of Los Angeles Unified's 688,000 students were truant for three or more days during the 2008-09 school year. Since LAUSD gets $32 per student in daily funding from the state, those absences cost the district $3 million.
In 2004-09, the LAPD's school police division issued 47,000 truancy tickets. The question is whether that got us closer to the goal of increasing attendance.
Tickets aren't the best answer. The ideal anti-truancy policy would seek to find out why a student is missing school and try to correct the problem, which may go beyond simple misbehavior.
Cardenas' action comes as a city task force headed by Michael Nash, presiding judge of Los Angeles County's Juvenile Court, is preparing its own policy recommendations. The task force is looking at approaches that have worked in other places.
It sounds as if the panel and the City Council are heading the same smart direction on this issue - toward a policy that aims to get kids in classrooms and not courtrooms.