Schools Turn to Police for Help Cutting Truancy Rates

Times Staff Writer

If Glendale students decide to play hooky in the future, they had better stay out of sight unless they feel comfortable in the back seat of a police car, according to a new strategy being considered by school district officials.

The crackdown is part of a new Truancy Intervention Program, which the district hopes will be in full swing sometime this semester, said district Supt. Robert Sanchis.

The program is similar to strategies in other districts where school officials and police work together to reduce truancy and the crime that often accompanies it.

An estimated 200 students play hooky every day in Glendale, and, although that is only 1% of the district's enrollment, "we want to make sure the problem remains under control," said Gary Hess, coordinator of secondary guidance and attendance.

"Truancy isn't a big pain in the neck in Glendale, but we still consider it a factor," said Hess, who prepared the plan. "If you don't continue to work on it, it can really become a big problem.

"Any youngsters we catch on the streets fooling around during school hours are going to be picked up. If they don't have a proper excuse or a documented permission slip, off they go."

Six-Week Experiment

The program is similar to a six-week experiment carried out in 1974 by the school district and Glendale police, who apprehended 115 truants, a figure that district officials did not feel was high enough to keep the effort going, Hess said.

Now, however, in light of other cities' successes, the district has decided to resurrect the program, which will soon be presented to the school board for approval.

According to the plan, students between ages 6 and 17 who are spotted by police off school grounds between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. will be taken to school district headquarters or to one of the city's recreation centers.

The students will have to wait there until a parent can pick them up and return them to school, whether it takes five minutes or five hours, Hess said.

Previously, the only action the district took when a student did not report to class was to notify the parents by phone.

Greater Impact

"The key point in our plan is having the parents come and get their kid," Hess said. "There's a lot greater impact on the family when the parents have to get involved. It's one thing getting a telephone call, but it's totally different when you have to stop what you're doing, get in the car, get your kid and then return him to school."

The strategy is similar in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Inglewood and El Monte.

Los Angeles district officials, who have to cope with a truancy rate twice as high as Glendale's, have taken their program, called Operation Stay in School, a step further. Students caught playing hooky are taken to police stations until their parents arrive, and while at the station receive counseling from truancy officers.

Glendale officials have decided not to have officers take truants to the police station because "it would shake them up a little too much," Hess said. He added, "I think our system will work out fine," although habitual truants "may spend quite a bit of time in the presence of an officer."

Glendale's truancy program, Hess said, will not cost the district any money and, in fact, may prove to be a money maker. If the district can lower its truancy rate it would qualify for more state money because funding is based on average daily attendence.

Glendale police Sgt. Bob McCloud, who is in charge of the department's juvenile division, said he is looking forward to working with school district officials.

"Any time you have two organizations working together, things get done better," McCloud said. "What we're interested in is getting the kids off the streets and back into their classes, where I hope they'll learn something."

Periodic Sweeps

Police officers will be instructed to be on the lookout for truants, and eventually will conduct periodic sweeps in shopping malls and areas where students playing hooky are often found, McCloud said.

Truancy itself is not a crime, and students playing hooky cannot be arrested. However, the state Education Code allows school officials and police officers to hold truant students in custody during school hours until a parent or guardian can pick them up.

According to California law, children from 6 to 17 years old must attend school. At 16, students can choose to end their formal education but must attend an alternative school such as Daily High School in Glendale, where classes are held at irregular hours.

Police support the truancy program because, besides keeping students in school, similar efforts elsewhere have led to a reduction in daytime crime near schools.

"There's definitely a link between truancy and crimes such as residential burglaries, petty theft and vandalism," McCloud said. "Oftentimes the two almost go hand in hand."

Lower Truancy Rates

In Los Angeles, for example, truancy rates have dropped from 4% to 2% since its program was developed 10 years ago, and accompanying the reduction has been a 20% decrease in daytime crime in school neighborhoods, said Capt. Bob Taylor of the Northeast Division, where officers picked up about 1,600 truants last year.

"It's a lot of work for us, picking up students and bringing them in, but it pays off in the long run," Taylor said.

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