It used to be that getting caught out in the streets could land a Los Angeles schoolkid a $240 ticket for supposed truancy. To get it resolved the student would have to skip a day of school, and their parent or guardian a day of work to show up in court, and then eventually pay the fine. The tickets got more expensive with each successive offense.
According to the LAPD and the Los Angeles School Police, between 2004 and 2009, police issued more than 47,000 of these to students. And even though black and Latino students make up 74 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, they got 88 percent of truancy tickets for violating L.A.’s daytime curfew laws.
So it was good news when the LAPD announced last Thursday that it would revise its policy of ticketing schoolkids. Now, LAPD will stop ticketing for the first hour of the school day, and police will now be directed to hurry kids along to school rather than fining them. Police officers also will no longer be allowed to hand out tickets on school grounds.
It turned out that many students who got slammed with tickets weren’t exactly “truants,” many students were getting ticketed while they were on their way to school, and sometimes while they were just blocks away. The tickets ended up hitting the poorest students worst; community organizing groups found that many kids have to help drop off their younger siblings to school, or are dependent on Los Angeles’ shoddy public transit or their own two feet to get them to school, and often were juggling many other things in their lives besides just school.
The revised policy is the product of an agreement from the LAUSD, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office and his non-profit Partnership for Los Angeles schools and the Labor Community Strategy Center, Public Counsel, as well as the ACLU of Southern California. The community and advocacy groups argued that far from encouraging kids to get to school on time or at all, truancy tickets actually do the exact opposite by forcing students to miss class in order to resolve them. The Strategy Center, which has been organizing to fight the punitive truancy tickets for several years, argued that aggressive truancy ticket policies actually fast-tracked kids into a school-to-prison pipeline. The more interaction kids have with the police, they said, the more likely kids are to drop out eventually.