LAUSD Opens Attendance Improvement Centers as Alternatives to Truancy Citations


The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) opened Attendance Improvement Centers (AIC) in eight schools this week, including two in the San Fernando Valley, which they say are an alternative to truancy citations that are issued to students for daytime curfewAttendanceCenters.jpg violations. But a group representing students asked for a delay in the openings and a revision of the program.

"We are thrilled to be offering an alternative to truancy and citations for our LAUSD youth. The Attendance Improvement Centers are places where we intend to get students back on track by providing options to truancy and drop out," saidDr. Judy Elliott, LAUSD's Chief Academic Officer.

The Centers opened at Sepulveda Middle School and Burbank Middle School in the San Fernando Valley. Other schools selected for the program include Belmont High School, Santee Education Complex, El Sereno Middle School, Gage Middle School, Washington Preparatory High School and San Pedro High School.

The AICs are opened from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The LAUSD has sent letters to parents' homes to let them know about the opening of these Centers and this new program.

Each Center accommodates some 30 students. A teacher and two LAUSD officials, one from student services and the other from school safety, are available at the sites as well.

Under the Los Angeles Municipal Code (45.04), juveniles are prohibited from loitering during the hours of the day when school is in session. Additionally, California's Compulsory Education Law (EC section 48200) requires that every child between the ages of 6-18 years old must attend school every day and on time.

According to the California Education Department, during the school year 2008-2009 there were 39,342 students who were absent for three or more days without justification. That represents a loss of $3.5 million in educational funds to the state.

Students picked up by school police for truancy are taken to the Centers, where they receive instruction and are required to complete grade-level work assigned to them while they wait for their parents to pick them up. Students also watch a 10-minute video on school truancy filmed by fellow students. The LAUSD also offers referrals to resources and services in the community for parents and students who experience problems related to truancy.

"The objective is to teach students to assume responsibility for their actions, to learn to exercise self-control, and to provide them with an intervention that can guide them towards success," noted an LAUSD press release.

The Community Rights Campaign, a group which earlier this year held protests at several schools around the LAUSD, including Cleveland High School in Reseda to denounce what they call the District's "criminalization of students" under the truancy policy, called for postponing the opening of the AICs and a revision of that policy.

In a letter sent late last week to LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia and copied to other District authorities, Manuel Criollo, lead organizer for the Campaign, expressed "reservations" about the Centers.

"The decision to move forward with this policy is very disheartening for us because over the last year and a half, we have approached the LAUSD institution, not only to illustrate the problems of the trend to criminalize tardiness and truancy, in what appears to be a discriminatory pattern, but also we have submitted written recommendations, outlined model policies and attempted our best to urge a true partnership with little feedback and concrete engagement," Criollo wrote in the letter.

Criollo, however recognized that the LAUSD is attempting "to move away from the harmful ways in which tardy and truancy citations and court intervention models have impacted the education" of low-income LAUSD students and parents of color.

"The decriminalization of student attendance has been the core of the issues that we have raised with the Board in the past, but implementing a program with little public participation can also have the same set of consequences; or even worse, by unfortunately repeating a model alternative that has not had any real engagement and acceptance by the community," he said.

The letter explains that some of the reservations the Campaign has with the Centers is that this program does not include a preventative model. Criollo also said the AICs lack teacher instruction and engagement, and that counselors will not be available either to speak with students as to the reasons for their tardiness or truancy.

He added that requiring parents to pick up students from these Centers "will place a burden on many low-income working class families who may have to leave their work place, rearrange child care and transportation for the simple act of their child running late to school."

Criollo also decried the lack of parent, student and community participation in the decision making about the Centers, and it still does not address or change the issue they have been complaining about for some time: the LAUSD's truancy policy.

"The most pressing question for us is where are the written MOU's between LASPD, LAPD and other law enforcement agencies and LAUSD on how a young person will be stopped, questioned, and what constitutional protections will the student be granted in relations to searches, and a number of other very important questions," wrote Criollo in the letter.

In February, the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol ran a series of articles dealing with this issue after a protest at Cleveland High School staged by the Campaign and several students.

At the rally, the Campaign raised concerns that the school police practiced racial profiling and discouraged students from coming to school by regularly issuing truancy tickets to students who may be only a few minutes late and trying to get to campus. The students and their parents later had to go before a judge to respond to these tickets.

The protesters also complained that students running late faced a $250 ticket, were handcuffed and brought to the campus in a police car where they were turned over, while still in handcuffs, to school administrators.

LAUSD officials noted the opening of the AICs means no more of those tickets or going before a judge until their fourth truancy. The Centers also mean that the LAUSD won't lose the approximately $30 it receives in federal and state aid for every day a student is in the classroom. Under the old policy, the district did not receive those funds because students cited for truancy were simply sent home.

The LAUSD also believes the Centers will not only provide a service to the District's neediest students by preventing them from becoming victims or perpetrators of crimes, but help them on their path to becoming productive members of society.

Currently, school truancy is one of several patterns of behavior known to increase the likelihood of delinquency. Youth who do not attend school are more likely to become involved with drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence than youth who attend school, according to the LAUSD.

Truancy can cause students to fall behind in school, which can lead them to dropout. Dropouts have higher rates of incarceration and addiction, lower-paying jobs and a greater tendency for unemployment over their lifetimes.