The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday gave final approval to changes in the truancy law that, pending approval by the mayor, would delay fines until a third offense and dramatically reduce the base fine for skipping school from $250 to $20.
The plan, introduced by Councilman Tony Cardenas and supported by Councilman Bernard Parks, contains new penalty options for a first or second violation. Offenders would be able to either propose a plan for how to improve their attendance, perform community service, tutoring or mentoring, or attend an after-school program.
Cardenas said the current fines, which can run upwards of $1,075, can be crippling for poor families and disproportionately affect the families of minority students.
With county, state and court fees added in, third and future offenses would run a minimum $155 under the new 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.
Los Angeles police officers issued more than 47,000 truancy tickets between 2004-09. During that same time period, the truancy rate increased from 5 percent to more than 28 percent, according to the state Department of Education.
“We’re going from a purely punitive model to a restorative justice model,” Cardenas said during discussions last week. The tickets usually force students to miss additional classroom time and work to resolve tickets in court, Cardenas said. The 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.