4,328 students were ticketed by the school police for being truant or late to school in 2008. An average of 24 students per day. The cost of the infraction for being absent is $250 the first time, and it can increase if you reoffend. In the last school year the LASPD obtained more than $1 million.
According to the Labor/Community Strategy Center, around 12,000 students were fined in Los Angeles County during 2008. Such fines can also be issued by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Sheriff department.
This measure known as a “truancy ticket” is based on Los Angeles Municipal Code 45.04, which says that it is illegal for any minor under 18 attending school to be on the street, parks, buildings, restaurants, parking lots or any other public space from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during school days, with some exceptions.
Nevertheless, the measure has provoked controversy among those who oppose the use of a financial sanction as a repressive policy to regulate the conduct of students, because the student and his or her parent has to miss a day or school and work to go to court.
Mike Bowman, Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD), said that the majority of tickets are given to youth that stay in public places or eating in restaurants, but many are also ticketed for being late to school.
The tickets are given to students between the ages of 14 and 18.
At the close of this edition neither the LAPD nor the Sheriff could give the number of tickets given to students for being late to school or for being truant.
According to Manuel Criollo, coordinator of the Labor/ Community Strategy Center and the Bus Riders Union (BRU), the majority of tickets are given for being late not for ditching.
“80% of students [that we interviewed] say it is because they were late,” said Criollo. “To solve truancy we need to go to the root of the problem, instead of using the courts as a first encounter for youth with the law.”
He said that schools should have counseling programs to help the youth, to use alternatives to the judicial system such as peer mentoring programs, and that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can play a role to solve the problem.
La Opinion contacted the LAUSD multiple times to get their perspective on the issue but no response was given by the close of the day.
A student from Manual Arts High School, who asked to be identified as “Mike J,” says that many times it is not his fault when he is late to school because sometimes the bus is late.
“Many times we prefer to go back home instead of getting ticketed by the police who stand in front of the school waiting for us,” he said.
Edith Honorato, a student at Roosevelt High School, recently wrote in her school paper, “Am I a criminal for being late to school?” in which she talks about the ticket she was given on March 10th.
“I committed my first crime. This morning I woke up late, which caused me to arrive late to school. I was walking on Matthew and Fourth Street heading to school when a a police stopped me. I couldn’t believe it, it was only 8:30 a.m. in the morning and I was going to school. Everything came crashing down and I began to cry like a little girl. My mom was in Mexico because my Grandfather had almost died and I was dealing with a lot of responsibilities, like taking care of my 5-year-old sister. I think the ticket was very unjust,” wrote the student.
Rachel Orozco, a mother who had to pay this type of ticket a few years ago, described the punishment as drastic especially in these times of crisis.
“Who hasn’t been late to school before?” asked this homemaker and resident of South Central. “Sometimes I ask them just to stay home because it is too much money. They’re forcing students to miss school.”
Jorge Morales Almada
Jorge Morales Almada is a reporter for La Opinion who was born in Tijuana, México, and has lived in Los Ángeles since 2003. He won the 2002 National Journalism Award in México. In 2003 and 2005, he attended seminars of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano in Colombia and won a fellowship for the Institute of Justice and Journalism by the University of Southern California.
Originally published in La Opinion. Republished with the author's permission.