10/21/2011 01:00:00 AM PDT - The Los Angeles Unified School District's police force is adopting a more moderate truancy policy in an effort to reduce what was seen as unfair targeting of some students.
Community groups had complained that the school police and the Los Angeles Police Department were going after students in poor and minority neighborhoods in disproportionate numbers, and writing them truancy tickets even if they were just late for class.
In addition, students became even later to class because they had to wait for the tickets to be written, and then had to miss more class to go to court for the $250 violations.
Under the new policy, LAUSD police will no longer cite students who are late but on their way to school, or are on or near school grounds. Officers will also encourage students to get to school rather than ticketing them. They will also end sweeps by school police in the first 90 minutes of the start of school.
A memo from school police Chief Steven Zipperman also reminds officers to consider the spirit of the city's daytime curfew ordinance - to prevent truancy - before taking action and they should ask students if they have a legitimate reason for not being in school. It also states that students over 18 should not be cited.
"The Los Angeles School Police Department supports the educational mission of the school district and the superintendent's goals of attendance and graduation improvement and reducing the cycle of student `push out'," Zipperman said.
Zipperman has been working with a number of organizations in drafting the new policy. Among them are the Community Rights Campaign, Public Counsel and the ACLU of Southern California.
It began as a complaint from students who rode public transit buses to school and were cited for truancy when the buses ran late.
As a result, students and their parents had to take time off from work to deal with the legal consequences of the truancy ticket, including the fines.
The LAPD adopted a new policy last month after reports came out from Public Counsel questioning the effectiveness of the sweeps and noting some 47,000 students had been cited for truancy between 2004 and 2009.
Councilman Tony Cardenas, who first raised the issue, worked with the LAPD and the other groups to change the police department policy.
Cardenas said he had been concerned the curfew and truancy laws were being applied disproportionately to minority students.
Nabil Romero, a recent graduate from the Roybal Learning Complex in downtown Los Angeles, said he was cited last spring by the school police.
"When you're dealing with real-life issues dragging you down and making you late to school, the last thing you need when you get there is to run into police treating you like a criminal and making you feel like there is no point to trying anymore," Romero said.
Manuel Criollo, an organizer with the Community Rights Campaign that did the research, said the new policy will promote more students staying in school.
"This directive puts students, parents and teachers - not the courts and the police - in charge of student education," Criollo said.
The department will monitor the situation over the next several months to determine if any changes are needed.