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"When I was 16 years old, that's when I got my first truancy ticket," said Jose Solis, 20, to LAUSD board members at today's meeting. "I was three minutes late, I didn't have good transportation. Sometimes I didn't have a choice but to walk 17 blocks to school."
Now Solis is a member of the Inglewood-based Youth Justice Coalition. The group showed up at today's meeting to tell board members why it is important to support a change in L.A.'s daytime curfew law for students.
(Veronica Martinez, 21, shared her trauncy ticket story afterward: "I would be just around the corner from the school, and BAM! — a ticket." She is now a senior at FreeLA High School.)
The change to the city's current law was proposed by Councilmember Tony Cardenas. It looks at narrowing the ability to ticket students who are on their way to school for being truant. The new policy would eliminate fines as a penalty and would also require LAPD data collection and reporting as well as restore a free speech exception.
Earlier this month, the presiding judge of L.A.'s Juvenile Court issued new guidelines for courts to dismiss the $250 tickets if students can prove they were running late when cited by an officer. The guidelines include requiring students with chronic truancy to complete special programs or otherwise perform community service, among other measures.
On Tuesday, board members approved the resolution to support such a change for L.A. students with five votes in favor and two against. The measure resolves to work with other L.A. agencies to "develop an evidence-based alternative to increase student attendance and intervene appropriately when students are truant."
Members Marguerite LaMotte and Tamar Galatzan both said, in different ways, that students should take more responsibility or ownership for their circumstances.
"I think I walked 50 blocks every morning, every evening," LaMotte said. "Sometimes we have these hinderances, and we have to make them work because they're best for us."
Galatzan spoke briefly, pushing the microphone away afterward: "I was also struck by how everybody blamed everybody but themselves for not being in school on time," Galatzan said. "If you don't want a truancy ticket, you should be in school."
After Tuesday's meeting, a group of students gathered around L.A. School Police Dept. Chief Steven Zipperman, who came to show his support for the measure.
"I'm proud of you," Zipperman told the students.
Zipperman said changing the curfew law is important because it takes the focus off punishment and looks at trying to solve the causes behind a student's truancy. He said curfew violations will still be enforced, citations will still be issued, but there will be a look at "the spirit of the law [versus] letter of the law type of approach."
In some cases students have avoided going to school entirely because of worries they would get a $250 ticket for being late, which is not what officials want, Zipperman said.
"The goal is to get kids to school and keep them off the street," Zipperman said. "...The citation should be a last resort."
Zipperman said the department is looking into whether it might be able to ultimately write citations that would send students directly to youth centers to deal with their truancy issues rather through the criminal justice system.