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Truant Corral : Schools and Police Hail Surprise Roundups of AWOL Glendale Pupils

April 16, 1987|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

With eyes swollen and red from quiet sobbing, the 16-year-old Glendale high school truant waited anxiously in the makeshift detention center, dreading his mother's arrival.

The teen-ager had skipped school earlier that morning to visit a friend, but a Glendale police officer spotted him and hauled him to the temporary holding center at the school district's administration building.

"My parents are going to beat me," the sophomore at Allan Daily Continuation High School said, brushing away a new flow of tears.

Similar scenes have become common in Glendale since school administrators and police joined forces two years ago to battle truancy with periodic, unannounced patrols called the Truancy Intervention Program (TIP).

Once or Twice a Month

The sweeps occur once or twice a month. The schedule is kept secret.

If youngsters are spotted off campus during school hours without school-issued permission slips, police cart them to the detention center until a parent or guardian retrieves them and returns them to school. The student then meets with the school's vice principal, who issues punishment, ranging from after-school work to suspension.

The program is similar to ones in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Inglewood and other school districts.

Since TIP began in March, 1985, more than 500 minors, ages 6 to 17, have been plucked from city streets, parks, video arcades, shopping malls and other hangouts and placed back in the classroom, said William B. Card, coordinator of attendance for Glendale schools.

It is designed to remind students that the district feels attendance is very important, said school Supt. Robert Sanchis. He called the program "a way of showing students that the community is working together to encourage and make sure students are in school."

From Diverse Backgrounds

Truants in Glendale come from diverse backgrounds, school officials and police say. Some are successful students out for a day of fun. Others repeatedly cut classes because they are bored or doing poorly in school. Still others are just looking for excitement.

Administrators say they are confident that TIP has contributed significantly to an increase in school attendance throughout Glendale, which has climbed from 97.2% during the 1985-86 school year to 98.4% since January.

The cost of the program is minimal. Because California schools receive state funds based on the number of students in attendance, the program actually generates money for the district, officials say.

However, the amount of state money TIP has recovered is difficult to calculate because it is one of several efforts to lower truancy and dropout rates in Glendale schools, said Gary Hess, director of student services for the district.

Replaces Earlier Phone Call

Before TIP, parents of absent youngsters received only a phone call from the district. Administrators say that requiring parents to retrieve their children leads to more parental involvement in students' attendance habits.

When the mother of the nervous Allan Daily Continuation High student arrived at the center, she was as angry as her son predicted she would be.

"I didn't expect this, it's a shocker," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. Nevertheless, she said she was grateful she was notified.

It was just before 9 a.m. on a sunny Thursday late in March when a team of eight officers climbed into their patrol cars, some unmarked, to begin the search for errant students. The morning began slowly, but, within two hours the officers had hauled in a dozen, mostly from the Glendale Galleria mall. By noon they had corralled 13 more.

The officers marched the pupils into the temporary holding room and turned them over to school officials. An attendance worker, posted behind a check-in table, asked each student's name, age, school and parents' phone number while another verified the information on a district computer. Then the youngsters were told to sit around a large table and wait quietly while two district workers, in a separate smaller office, telephoned their parents.

"I think my mom's going to be upset, she'll yell," predicted one nervous 16-year-old from Glendale High School who, along with two of her girlfriends, was loaded in the back seat of a black-and-white at about 10 o'clock that morning in front of the school.

The sophomore and her two friends contended that they were not playing hooky, but that they had left campus during the brief morning recess to pick up a duplicate set of car keys after one of the girls locked her original set in the trunk of her car. While driving back to the school, officers pulled them over for speeding and called a truancy unit to collect them.

'This Is So Stupid'

"This is so stupid! So stupid," snapped the girl with the misplaced keys. "We were going in the direction of school when they picked us up. My parents aren't home; there's no way of contacting anybody. . . . I've missed four classes now. When they picked me up, I hadn't missed any classes."

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