Truant students will find themselves face-to-face with a judge who can levy fines on them or sentence them to community service work under a proposed ordinance that Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick plans to unveil today.
The ordinance increases the stakes for truants; under current rules they are returned to school to face detention, suspension, a parent conference or a transfer.
Under Chick's proposal, police officers would issue truant students a citation forcing them to appear with a parent or legal guardian before a juvenile traffic court judge.
The law would apply to students under the age of 18 who are caught loitering on school days from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The citation would appear as an infraction on a student's driving record.
The proposed ordinance, which already has gained the support of Los Angeles school board President Mark Slavkin and police officials, was modeled after a program in Monrovia that has reportedly reduced truancy in that city.
"It will send a message to parents and students that we take this issue seriously," Slavkin said Tuesday.
"I think we need a partnership with the city and the police to send a consistent message."
Chick, who has spoken out against truancy problems in the past, said she hopes the program will reduce the truancy rate and crime problems associated with youngsters roaming freely during the day.
"Students who do not attend classes lose out on an education and cause all sorts of problems for themselves, their neighborhoods, their schools and for our law enforcement officials," she said.
Since the Monrovia law was adopted in September, 45 students appeared in court. All have opted to work off their fine through 27 hours of community service, doing everything from removing graffiti to filing books in the public library, according to Monrovia police. The fine is usually $135.
"We really feel it's a good thing," said Bill Couch, a police youth services officers for the city of Monrovia.
Couch said the penalties are taken seriously by students because those who fail to follow through can lose their driver's licenses. Students younger than 16 can lose the privilege of applying for a license.
"When you start tampering with a kid's driving record, they really get sensitive," he said.
Although he could not provide data to show that the law has had an impact on the truancy rate, he said he believes it has declined slightly.
School district officials are motivated to reduce the truancy rate because they receive state per-pupil funding based on excused absences. The district does not receive funds for students without excused absences approved by a parent or guardian.
On an average annual basis, 4% of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District were considered truant last year, officials said.