The Star-News

Changes in approach to truancy

Sat, Aug 18 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: David Bejarano

This letter is in response to your article of Aug.11, "Police needlessly harassing teens". The article did not provide an accurate description of the ordinance nor the Chula Vista Police Department's enforcement policy.

Chula Vista’s Daytime Truancy ordinance was enacted in 1998 with the support of the Sweetwater Union High School District, the San Diego District Attorney and the Superior Court of California. The ordinance was intended to enhance the community’s ability to deal with truancy issues by expanding the working partnership between law enforcement and the school districts. The ordinance is used as a tool to keep juveniles out of harms way (keeping them from becoming involved in criminal activity during school hours, becoming a victim themselves, and keeping them in a safe learning environment).

A variety of studies conducted since 1991 have provided a wealth of evidence that juvenile crime can be linked to juvenile truancy. In fact since 1991 truancy has been identified as one of the early warning signs that students are headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation or educational failure.

Incidents of juvenile truancy create a burden upon the health, safety, and welfare of the entire community. Students absent from school are denied an education; unexcused absences result in a loss of state and federal funding to the detriment of all students; unsupervised students may involve themselves in unsafe activities by loitering in residential neighborhoods, business districts, or industrial centers; and some unsupervised students may engage in criminal activity to the detriment of the community; further, some unsupervised students may become a burden on police who must return them to school, wait for parents to pick them up, and investigate any and all criminal activity related to the student’s truancy.

While the original law did not include exceptions for the great variety of alternative educational systems that exist today, the Chula Vista Police Department has been working since 2011 on a complete review and update of the ordinance.

In the past the school district partnered with the Police Department to conduct periodic “sweeps” for truant minors that were skipping school. However since 2011 usage of the Daytime Truancy ordinance has dropped significantly. The Police Department no longer routinely conducts truancy sweeps and many “contacts” for truancy are handled informally between the parents and the school districts, without the need for fines or a court hearing. In addition, the proposed changes to the ordinance are intended to include specific provisions for alternative students like those mentioned in your article.

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